The Mysterious and the Foreign in Early Modern England

The Mysterious and the Foreign in Early Modern England

The Mysterious and the Foreign in Early Modern England

The Mysterious and the Foreign in Early Modern England

Synopsis

This collection of original essays explores the great quests and questions into the unknown that occupied and troubled the early modern world. The topics addressed are in many cases hitherto untouched by modern scholarship. Writings examined include canonical texts of early modern literature and other less familiar works engaged in the transcultural exchanges of their times. Themes range from mathematics to confessional exile, to the potency of goods and commerce, to imaginings of the most remote, exotic, and dangerous locations: topics of ever-increasing interest. The overarching construction of the collection is provided by a full, historical and critical introduction, and by a tripartite division of essays into travel, commerce, and the domestication of the foreign. Strikingly illustrated with Renaissance art and woodcuts, it is rounded out with a full index of names, ideas, and themes, making it accessible to scholars and readers with a thirst for the real mysteries of our past.

Excerpt

The RELAZIONE of an anonymous Venetian ambassador provides a vivid sketch of the English just before the upheavals of the Reformation. It recounts the rather mysterious customs of a foreign people measured against the standards and expectations of the most sophisticated and widely traveled inhabitants of the European world: “The English are, for the most part, both men and women of all ages, handsome and well-proportioned… [they] are great lovers of themselves, and of everything belonging to them; they think that there are no other men than themselves, and no other world but England; and whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say that ‘he looks like an Englishman,’ and that ‘it is a great pity that he should not be an Englishman;’ and when they partake of any delicacy with a foreigner, they ask him, ‘whether such a thing is made in their country?’” Parsimonious with wine at their otherwise sumptuous feasts, they wear very fine clothes and speak a language which, though derived from the German, is pleasing, having lost its harshness. They are pious enough in their religious observance, omitting nothing incumbent upon good Christians; yet, ominously, they harbor “various opinions concerning religion” (23). They also “have an antipathy to foreigners, and imagine that they never come into their island, but to make themselves masters of it, and to usurp their goods” (23–24). This observation naturally prompts the Italian to note that they do not trust people “as we do in Italy,” and that they “keep a very jealous guard over their wives, though any thing may be compensated in the end, by the power of money” (24).

Not, perhaps, an entirely flattering portrait of the English, but there is admiration, mixed with a tincture of envy, for their wealth and self-sufficiency: “The riches of England are greater than those of any other country in Europe, as I have been told by the oldest and most experienced merchants, and also as I myself can vouch, from that I have seen” (28). Their wealth lies in the fertility of the soil, the value of their exports, especially tin and wool, the near absence of imports, with the exception of wine, and their fiscal policy which prohibits gold and silver from leaving the country. Their riches are displayed in silver plate and dishes both domestically by every innkeeper, “however poor and humble he may be,” and ecclesiastically, “for there is not a parish church in the kingdom so mean as not to possess . . .

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