“There are two kinds of immortality: that which the soul really enjoys
after this life, and that imaginary existence by which men live in
their fame and reputation. The best and greatest actions have proceeded
from the prospect of the one or the other of these; but my design is to
treat only of those who have chiefly proposed to themselves the latter
as the principal reward of their labours.”
Through the centuries, many poets have turned their hand to writing about Robin Hood. In the 1740s, at the height of the neoclassical movement in English culture, John Winstanley reimagined Robin Hood as a classical archer who competed with Apollo.
How do certain ‘facts’ about one of the major events of English history get forgotten? Between 1715 and 1863, one such fact which people forgot was a dying confession made by Jack Straw, ahero of the Peasants’ Revolt.
We live in an era in which, increasingly, governments in many western countries are realising that they are losing the so-called “War on Drugs”. Some countries have completely decriminalised certain substances, while in some states in the USA, you can buy marijuana over the counter for both medicinal and recreational use. Our attitude to illicit substances is increasingly looking not too dissimilar from that held by many people in the early nineteenth century.
If Twitter was around in 1819, this angry letter writer named Robin Hood–who railed against corrupt and tyrannical MPs–would probably have had an account.
The name of Robin Hood appears in the most unlikely of places. Here we meet an orphan boy from the eighteenth century who was given the hero’s name.
“…the most selfish hearts should be humanized, and a feeling of love kept alive, reciprocating and reciprocated, between the rich and the poor, the politically great and the socially defenceless, for ever.”
According to an ancient custom in India, widows would voluntarily mount their dead husbands’ funeral pyres and be burned alive. The British put a stop to this practice in 1829.
“I will warn him that he will not find my robbers such romantic, generous characters as those who occasionally figure in the fields of fiction. He will meet with men strangers to that virtue of robbing the rich to give to the poor. They give to the poor indeed, but it is as spies and instruments of their own crimes, or at least in order to avoid detection.” –Charles Macfarlane, 1833.
“A general spirit of discontent has long been increasing among the people: it has at last broken out among the lower class in London.”
Shrouded in mystery, eerie in sound, mysterious in origin, menacing in the images it provoked, the word ‘mafia’ came into common usage in c. 1875.
Whenever a politician proposes raising a new tax or cutting a public service, a newspaper columnist will often respond that the proposed changes are ‘Reverse Robin Hood’. Alternatively, those who look favourably upon governmental tax and finance reforms might attempt to portray the politician in question as embodying Robin Hood values.
“Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15: 33, ASV)
The original Goldilocks was a haggard old woman and a criminal vagrant who gets sent to prison for being up to no good.
In 1824, the lawyer, Andrew Kapp, asked, “Do not these creatures, when they are bruised and wounded, shew an equal sense of pain with ourselves? Are not their shrieks and mournful cries, as so many, calls upon their tormentors for pity? And do not their dying pangs, and the painful convulsions of their tortured bodies, cause uneasiness in every human spectator?”
Joseph Ritson stated that the poem was “a dull performance and scarcely merits the care of a modern impression.”
Contrary to stories of Robin Hood, an outlaw’s life was not a merry one: in the 1820s, banditry in Italy was rife; at this time, a young travel writer named Charles Macfarlane was touring the country and managed to obtain a rare interview with one of these brigands.
By Stephen Basdeo. The popular song “Mack the Knife” was based upon the story of an eighteenth-century highwayman named Captain Macheath. This post traces the literary life of this fictional character.
“We would have killed the king and driven out of the land all possessioners, bishops, monks, canons, and rectors of churches. We would have created kings, Walter Tyler in Kent and one each in other counties, and appointed them and we would have set fire to four parts of the city and burnt it down and divided all the precious goods found there amongst ourselves.”
Katherine Royer’s new book, “The English Execution Narrative, 1200-1700” (2015) analyses the meanings behind the often gruesome executions carried out in the medieval and early modern period.
My book on Wat Tyler in medieval and post-medieval literature is now available for preorder on Amazon!
Last week Google celebrated the life of Victor Hugo (1802-85) with some quirky illustrations on its masthead, so I thought I would do the same by writing a post on an early novel by Hugo entitled “The Last Day of a Condemned Man” (1829), which explores the mindset of a man who is about to be hanged.
In the archvies of the Bodleian Library, Oxford there is a hitherto neglected Robin Hood novel by Robert Southey entitled ‘Harold, or the Castle of Morford’ (1791). This post is a short introduction to this text.
Expelled from school after stabbing his classmate, G. Barrington became an actor, then a pickpocket, until he was transported to Botany Bay and died of insanity.