THOMAS TRAHERNE’S sources have long presented a challenge for scholars because of his frequent habit to paraphrase without attribution. The poem ‘The Author to the Critical Peruser’, which appears in the manuscript of The Poems of Felicity, is signed with Thomas’s initials although the whole manuscript is in his brother’s hand.1 It is generally recognized that this poem signals Traherne’s familiarity with George Herbert. Traherne’s phrase ‘No curling Metaphors that gild the Sence’ (Traherne, l. 11)2 appears as ‘Curling in metaphors a plain intention’ in Herbert’s ‘Jordan (II)’.3 I argue that this poem also contains an allusion to another text which has not been recognized yet: John Ray’s Observations Topographical (1673).4 If at the start of the poem, Traherne seeks an ‘easy Stile’ (l. 17), later in the poem he turns his dissatisfaction with early moderns’ fascination with ‘Things that amaze, but will not make us wise’ (l. 24): I cannot imitat their vulgar Sence Who Cloaths admire, but not the Man they fence Against the Cold; and while they wonder at His Rings, his precious Stones, his Gold and Plate; The middle piece, his Body and his Mind, They over=look […] Their woven Silks and wel=made Suits they prize, Valu their Gems, but not more precious Eys: (ll. 37–42, 45–46) Traherne’s phrase ‘fence / Against the Cold’ (ll. 38–39) appears also in Ray’s Observations. There are several reasons why Ray’s work should be considered a valid source. A search in the Early English Books Online database for the phrase ‘fence against the cold’ brings up only Ray’s work. Additionally, the Oxford English Dictionary provides as the earliest appearance of the prepositional verb ‘fence against’ W. Temple’s Letter to Sir E. Dearing (1676), but the context of Temple’s work is not related to Traherne’s poem. Temple’s text reads: ‘I made use of the Circumstances to fence against this Resolution of the States’ which offers a legal rather than climate-related context. While the OED cites John Ray next, it refers to his Wisdom of God (1692, 2nd edn) rather than to his Observations Topographical, which was printed much earlier.5 If Ray coined ‘to fence against’, Traherne was quick to adopt it, but he was just as quick to critique Ray and those like him who were solely fascinated by external observations. In Ray’s work, the verb appears in a passage in which he describes his travels from northern Italy toward modern-day Switzerland: ‘Their houses are built of stone, and covered with shingles of wood, the walls thick and the windows very small to fence against the cold’ (Ray, 412). A range of other themes in Ray’s work provide another reason supporting the argument that his work is a source for Traherne’s poem. Ray discusses objects that are echoed in Traherne’s stanza cited above: clothing, gold, rings, attire, gems, precious stones, and woven silk. With his regular observations of the clothing in different countries, their trade in silk, the value of gold, Ray becomes Traherne’s target. Ray addresses not only gold but repeatedly brings up in his description various rings: one given by Emperor Charles V (Ray, 75); a ring for ceremonial inauguration (Ray, 86); Erasmus’ ring (Ray, 100); as well as ‘an ancient Roman gold Ring’ (Ray, 219). Traherne, however, rejects this fascination with rings by stating: ‘they wonder at / His Rings’ (ll. 39–40). While describing his visit through Verona, Ray speaks of ‘Gems and precious stones’ (Ray, 219), and in his description of Florence, he mentions an altar which is ‘set with Diamonds and other precious stones of the highest value’ (Ray, 334). Traherne adds these objects in the phrase quoted above to construct a list of superficial objects: ‘while they wonder at / His Rings, his precious Stones’ (ll. 39–40). Ray also dedicates attention to the plates in his description of the church in Montpelier (Ray, 455), which Traherne duly adds to the list: ‘and while they wonder at / His Rings, his precious Stones, his Gold and Plate’ (ll. 39–40). Ray pays considerable attention to the trade in woven silk. In his description of Vincenza, he addresses the reliance on trading with silk for the economy of that city: ‘The Inhabitants of this City drive a great trade in breeding and feeding of Silk-worms, and in winding, twisting, and dying of silk’ (Ray, 217). This theme appears as a remark about Bononia, ‘Heer is also a great silk trade driven, and the best Engines for winding and twisting of it that we have any where seen’ (Ray, 224). In his discussion of Genua, Ray once more addresses the silk trade: ‘The chief Trade of the Town is Silks and Velvets’ (Ray, 253). Other references on silk refer to Palermo and Sicily (Ray, 279). In discussing Bassano, Ray observes that ‘This Town drives a great trade of weaving silks’ (Ray, 388). In his commentary on Leden, once more Ray observes, ‘The Citizens here drive a great Trade of Weaving as well Silks, v.g. Damask, Velvet, Sattin, Taffaty, &c.’ (Ray, 39). Traherne builds a critique on Ray’s obsession with silk and fabric: ‘Their woven Silks and wel=made Suits they prize’ (Traherne, l. 45). On several occasions Ray brings up ‘Gems and precious stones’ (Ray, 219) which in Traherne becomes: they ‘Valu their Gems, but not more precious Eys’ (l. 46). Traherne expresses dissatisfaction with people who admire objects rather than their own bodies, and the remainder of his poem focuses on the human body as the proper object of study and fascination. In his endnotes to Traherne’s poems, Margoliouth identifies Elkanah Settle’s play Cambyses, King of Persia as the source for ‘The Author to the Critical Peruser’ that can help us determine the date of composition.6 He concludes that it must have been written after 1665, when the play was performed, or after 1671, when the play was first printed. The reference to John Ray extends the timeframe of the composition of the poem after 1673. Traherne’s familiarity with John Ray not only helps us to arrive closer to our understanding of the complex chronology of his works, but also to the kinds of publications that informed his works. Footnotes 1 Thomas Traherne, The Works of Thomas Traherne, ed. Jan Ross (Cambridge, 2014), vol. 6, p. 271, line 64. 2 Thomas Traherne, “The Author to the Critical Peruser,” in Poems of Felicity. The Works of Thomas Traherne, ed. Jan Ross (Cambridge, 2014), vol. 6, pp. 84–86. All subsequent references to the poem are from this edition. Numbers in parenthesis refer to the line number(s) in the poem. Since neither the date of Thomas’ composition nor the date of Philip's transcription of the manuscript are known, dates are omitted. 3 Nabil. I. Matar, ‘The Temple and Thomas Traherne’, English Language Notes, xxv.2 (1987), 25–33; Carol Ann Johnston, ‘Heavenly Perspectives, Mirrors of Eternity: Thomas Traherne’s Yearning Subject’, in Harold Bloom (ed.), John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets (New York, 2010), 47–76. 4 John Ray, Observations topographical, moral, & physiological made in a journey through part of the low-countries, Germany, Italy, and France with a catalogue of plants not native of England, found spontaneously growing in those parts, and their virtues (London, 1673). Durable URL link to Early English Books Online <http://gateway.proquest.com.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:13212323> (accessed 6 April 2018). All parenthetical citations to Ray's work refer to page numbers in this edition. 5 ‘fence, v.’ OED Online. Oxford University Press, January 2018. Web. (accessed 6 April 2018). 6 H. M. Margoliouth H. M., (ed.), Thomas Traherne: Centuries, Poems, and Thanksgivings (Oxford, 1958), II, 337. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: May 25, 2018
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