elcome glorious morn, nature smiles at your return.
Hail bright Cecilia, Great Patroness of us and harmony.
Dost see Thy fav'rite art, make up a part of infinite felicity.
Welcome to that ‘Fairest Isle,’ where Love's Goddess sure was blind
an' the 'Sweetness of Nature' did bid thee to pine.
t was April 30. A glorious morning—but not in my heart. After the spring gale of the past two days, the sun was shining as bright as the crystal stones in her diadem would shine, every April 30 since that first glorious day in '89. I stood immobile, racked with grief before her blessed image as she was in '85. I'm sure that was her true immortal appearance. If I could take that portrait from the wall of the Henry VIII Chapel (in some miniature duplication), I would carry it with me for the rest of my days—days that are numbered and have passed as an eternity since that fateful service fewer than two months ago. I feel as if I've aged a year for every day since that March 5.
At this moment the Abbey choir should be in their risers on that side, and my Chapel Royal choristers there across, and you my great patroness striding between. My new music—and I would have new music—majestically plays as I see you and hear The Glorious Day Appear as it did appear. You, fair youth, with your dark curls, tender arms, and dainty fingers. Not as you ended with the scourge that tried to defile you with pocks, blisters, and swellings. Though disease could defile your body; your soul remains that fairest of the Fairest Isle. Yes, Hail Bright Cecilia, but she must've taken you for her own and left me with neither hope nor harmony. Every joy in my heart is dead, and my soul without song. If one could hold a moment, that—.
"Sir Henry now please, we are all bereft of her glory and magnanimous soul. Please do not drive yourself to grief again. She would have you celebrate with your music today—Sir! Are you well?"
"I'm fine Sedwick—I'm perspiring for such a cool morning—And trembling a bit—I felt her eyes move from that calm stare upon me, helpless, as I am this morning. If you stare at a painting long enough, with great emotion, and if it is a great artist who painted it, the work comes alive. She blessed me—I smelled her perfume, and saw her smile with confident assurance down upon me, as whenever she gave me a commission."
"You should be comforted, Sir. Few of us have had so much to share as you have given and she also received."
"Her radiance, her great faith in me has sustained me all these years. It wrote that music as well as I."
"Sir come away from the shrine now and rest in the pew. Or perhaps outside for some fresh air.”
"—I tried to keep Her birthday odes in my head, but I must still be at the service. Two pieces I hear are both lamentations—I'll be fine Sedwick, just let me rest."
"You have the pallor of a dead man. Please cease grieving. Help! You there assist. This is the Royal Court's Composer. Put him in the seat and fetch water.”
"Sedwick, no ...I’ll not drink the water...I'll be fine,” I said, so weakly I could barely form words. Between phrases as I spoke them, as in my musical writing—there were rests of long duration—I seemed to be below the surface of life, then after a pause, I’d return and speak the next fragment.
“My Queen is dead, Her Gloriousness. Hail... Bright Cecilia—you've taken my patroness of harmony—my music too... my good Queen...”
"Sir Henry! Can you hear me? Sir?"
I heard voices of visitors calling me, who must have recognized who I was. Silent with closed eyes, I remember two things: I was aware in a narrow way, and I was in a vision.
The Abbey was spinning like a vortex and I imagined I could see my choirs and my symphony in performance of my music, ascending to the chapel vault. I thought in a wordless way: if any man could cause his end by emotional pain then I was surely succeeding that Sunday morn, as glorious in weather as it was inglorious in my dark mood.
I thought of that moment on March 5 past, in this same Westminster Abbey. After the military drums; after the sad trumpet choirs; the requiem choirs of Morley and myself; the Abbey draped in black, filled with mourners, against the soaring vault of the Chapel; the dark wintry day outside blending with the purple and velvet cushion on her crimson pall; and on the catafalque, her coffin. On top of all rested her crimson velvet crown. Then in a solemn moment as the choir filled us with the silence of Thou Knowest, Lord, thousands of candles were lit throwing the only light amidst the black and crimson; and a robin redbreast flew in, around, and alighted in a breathtaking moment on her crown. I swear to you that nature marks the passing of the noble hearted.
When I came out of it, Sedwick and two fellows had carried me to the carriage, leaning me on cushions, with my head propped against the wall. It was a tight fit, so they raised my feet into a semi crouched position. This must have helped the blood flow back into my head, increasing air to my senses and thus producing a dazed awareness. I murmured I wanted clean fresh air. The sights, smells, and smog (a word which is a combination of smoke and fog, which I believe I invented) of London were making me queasy. Sedwick drove off furiously, but where he thought he was going I could not tell you. Again, I had ideas, and they were otherwise.
"Shall I take you home Sir, or find a physician? I do not want to upset the Mrs.,” Sedwick yelled from the driver's seat.
"Do not want to worry Dorinda. The apothecary—out on Uxbridge Road, near Ealing or Hillingdon or between—That’s Culpepper’s home shop. Nicholas has given me good remedies before with herbs. I shan't have those devils, those quack physicians, bleeding and poking me, pouring their poisons into the wounds they make. Their cure is worse than the bite—as I don't believe I have anything—unless it was a flea-bite.” My voice trailed off into incoherent mumbling.
"Be quiet and rest Sir. Will I know when we are there?"
"Look for his sign... like the title of the book he gave me: Complete Herbal and English Physician. We’ll be out near Berkshire where I was born; the smog will lift as we get into the country."
"I do not see much smog—will we stay the night Sir?"
"I think so, we'll go on out of town." I scribbled a note to my wife to drop off at the messenger. Enclosing a tip would hopefully ensure she'd get it by evening. “Sedwick, stop by the post; dispatch this to Dorinda.”
Culpepper was by far our most influential herbalist, well published and respected by the knowledgeable commoners but ignored by the Royal Physicians. They made accusations of sorcery over his healings; yet, the faithful powerfully believed even unproved healings. He was influential in swaying the Royal Physicians’ views when they were up against the Black Death back in 1666. They adopted herbs not used in witchcraft that seemed to have effects against fevers and plague. He never received much credit.
Uxbridge road soon became a bumpy, narrow lane that was faster than the high ways of trade. Despite this, it was pleasant; my sickness was as much of the spirit, as of the stomach. The air and scenery, along with the occasional smell of spring greenery, revived me enough to read.
It was a bit of a ride from Chelsea to the Abbey so I had brought along two of my favorite books in case of delays. One, a compilation of notebooks by the great Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci, with whom I’d been fascinated since childhood, contained illustrations set in a mold technique of the original ink drawings. This process left an impression of the original, by coloring the background in black. I could see his studio perched on a hill bordered by an olive grove in the Northern Italian countryside, his portrait, along with all his flying machines, inventions, and even his designs for weather instruments. There were other, wilder things only he and God knew of. I had also brought a new book: Studies of Meteors and Weather (and their instruments), by the Italian Society of New Sciences, in which I never tired of studying physics. The mathematical explanations were above my head, but I understood the principles.
My mind wandered to passing scenes of the suburbs, to the accompaniment of my recent music since '89, the glory years, under my loving patroness—Queen Mary alive in my heart and music, you shall remain!
"Sedwick! Get the time. I forgot my watch!"
"I have your watch sir. Only a quarter ‘til noon. Shall I stop somewhere?"
"Keep going while we have light. I never could keep a watch for long.”
My mind paraded through the last dozen years but not in any temporal order. It was like my life flashing by, but too quick to view it all. Being a composer, it was primarily a musical and visual parade. I couldn’t comprehend the emotional state I felt in my gut, not grief, nor joy, but a nostalgic unison of cathedral like dimensions—in songs and lyrical thought; my mind sank beneath the sea surface like a ship foundering helplessly in a hurricane. The wreck was all that was left of great moments that passed swiftly like so many of life's memorable times. The premiere of my first opera at the Chelsea Girl's school; that quiet afternoon with the girls and my dear wife to be in the lead as Dido, changed the course of my future. What a year, 1689; our Queen's coronation—that "Glorious Day" now appearing before me—more glorious, was her commission to me—with the eternal gratitude of my heart—that I should compose an ode for the celebration of her birthday each year since, and performed each glorious morning of this very day, now silenced by her absence.
We would begin by parading from Whitehall to the Abbey; my choir stood at each side of the Abbey, with the sinfonia and trumpets to the rear, where I could see to conduct from the harpsichord. The ode, Now does the glorious day appear. with full chorus played through my mind like an echo.
Then Her Majesty's favorite: My 1691 Ode to her birthday, Welcome, glorious morn, the tune that started my grieving, but now free of that dark cloud. The trumpets sounded bright major chords, the strings dancing in ritornellos, the trumpets more delicately now answering the strings. I could see Her Majesty reach the head of the Abbey, seating herself, gracing us with her pleased smile as both of us heard for the first time that happy tune.
"A pox! Devil! A flea”—the world's smallest evil on my bare leg, above my white stocking, the roughness of the day's events had worked it loose from its garter, then a rat, which had been hiding under the clapboard seat across, stuck out his nose. He dashed out, and as he did, I scuffled him with my boot, opening the carriage door and sending him flying into the road.
"God made two mistakes besides letting Lucifer off." I pinched the flea and hoped I got him, though I didn't see him fall. "He made fleas and rats… no that's three mistakes: fleas, rats, and He allowed French opera to exist!
To think she died of a pox." I mumbled to myself.
The music ended just as I heard Sedwick.
"Sir, its two on the clock—I’m hungry—I think I missed it. Wait! There it is: Culpepper's Apocathery Shoppe.”
Culpepper's shop was a cottage with all manners of mortar, pestles, dishes, and scales, and many herbs, bunched, tied, and hanging from wall hooks. He was old, yet forceful, and direct like a young man; with his long white hair, it was amazing he had it and not a wig. I've seen a drawing of Merlin, and when he put on his ‘medical hat’ as he called it, he looked like a Nostradamus for our age. His facial beard was leaden but sparse, his skin taught not crinkled, like a robust fisherman's face. I guessed he must be near seventy but he could pass for a man in his fifties.
Mr. Culpepper remembered our prior meeting and gave me several pouches of herbs he had talked with me about previously. We discussed tinctures of St. John's Wort, good for healing of wounds, and Hyssop for cleansing the blood and bowels.
He inspired me to learn more about St. John's Wort, named because people believed it released its blood-red oil on August 29, the anniversary of the saint's beheading, (Wort was old English for plant). He told me to "boil it in wine and drink, as an ointment it closes wounds, dissolves swellings and it helpeth all manner of vomiting and spitting blood." Culpepper was old and spoke in the old English style, but told me an interesting piece of history about the herb. Believed good for recurring fevers, the Greeks, Romans, and pagan Christians believed it repelled evil spirits and witches' spells. They burned it in bonfires on St. John's Eve to purify the air, and drive away evil spirits.
"Very nice Nicholas, but I'm not interested in superstition, my pain is of the soul and heart as well as of body and mind. I believe in the Lord God but not in spirits. Once when I was composing in my chamber, my head was full of trumpets and strings, yet I heard this strange clanging as if it came from the air around me. I could trace no discernible cause and my mind ran toward the excuse of witches, though I scoffed at the idea. Then I saw a page of a score of mine move by the breeze through the window crack. It moved enough to push my metronome's pendulum against its case, thus clanging. Everything has a cause; the ignorant masses see few causes and when they do not understand something they ascribe it to witches and devils.”
"I agree with ye. I was just telling thee th' history Henry. I have made many tinctures that helpeth hysterias, not of superstition, but of the spine and nerve cords. Look at the Book of Genesis: for the Lord giveth the plants that heal, many plants for many hurts." Then he quoted a psalm setting, Psalm 103, as I recall, verses 2-5:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, forget not His benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction;
Who crowneth thee with tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that
Thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
“I have made a tincture of an herb for which I have no name. It is rare and found only in moist peat and shady places. I believe it helps the nerves as well as has helped in halting the spread of plague by attacking and draining its terrible swellings. It must be found fresh and made promptly into a tincture for best effect, but can be worn as a healing necklace or amulet to help strengthen your spiritual energies. During Medieval times, monks made a drink of it to cure headache and promote long life. A woman who had it in her garden or cupboard could use that as a defense against charges of witchcraft. There Henry, on the east wall is a necklace I made recently as a gift for your wife. Is she still suffering from the strange agitated behavior ye told of in your letter?"
“Not as badly as when she locked me out of our house that damp night, as I mentioned, but she has fits of deep complaints that lead to brooding depressions. And, she has blamed me for much of it. I work too much or too little for her tastes. Of course I do worry about her health.”
“Grief held long can cause much ill to spirit and body. I myself was born wealthy and attended Cambridge, where I studied medicine. I met a lady and we planned to elope, but a thunderbolt struck her on the way to our secret meeting place, killing her. God, the devil, a witch, a power; what force made such swift retribution?"
"It’s called lightning, the fire that comes with the clap, it strikes by chance. God would not call it down especially or all of us would perish. The same storm also brings rain to water our crops,” I lectured Nicholas on the weather.
“As I turned my life to a new course, Henry, leaving Cambridge to study as a lowly apothecary, so must you leave your past success behind and find a new journey forth,” said Culpepper.
A tattered book with dog-eared pages lay on a small table in an alcove off the main room. Fat candle stubs, sculpted with twisted drippings, adorned the table, and Culpepper’s four-cornered ‘medical hat’ was hanging on a peg along with a long purple cloak. Before the table sat a circular tripod stool of polished brass and a basin on the floor beneath the table, a parchment with quill and inkpot completed the setting. I surmised this was his writing desk for his categorizing of plants and treatises on medicines. Yet the book intrigued me; it was a published work, so well worn it seemed to assume the importance of some sort of reference.
“I see you have a special place for your writing, Nicholas. I do not believe I have that book in my library. May I see it?”
“Ye may Henry, but let me fetch it for I wish to keep my ‘altar’ of sorts undisturbed. This is my place of meditation.”
He handed me the heavy book carefully, as its binding was cracked. I asked him if he always wore the hat and cloak while there, but he said it was only for his visionary writing.
“Divination, eh? This is a treatise on the method, along with a printing of Nostradamus’ quatrains. I did not suspect you partook of mystical practices. Are ye superstitious?”
“No Henry, as your music is not science but art, visions have the power to foretell when obtained in quiet solitude. The verse is the record of an image on the mind, of possible futures known in timeless heaven by the saints. ‘Twere I a painter I would paint what I see.”
“Do you study the quatrains of Nostradamus to seek their meaning or as a guide to your own attempts?”
“Both. I use herbal oils and incense to calm my senses, seeking to tap the source of future knowledge. This is usually late in the still of night, while I meditate on the candle flame.”
“What do you make of these two quatrains Nicholas? I have read them and puzzled over the meaning:”
The Great Plague of the maritime city shall not cease,
before death is avenged for the just blood,
basely seized, and condemned without offense.
The great Mother Church outraged by feigning.
The blood of the just shall be required of London,
burnt by fireballs in thrice twenty and six.
The old Cathedral shall fall from its high place,
and many of the same sort shall be destroyed.
[Century II—Quatrains 51-53]
“They have meaning for us and the times we have lived through, but the full intent is obscured. Do you not think that such a man as Nostradamus may have read his prejudice into his prophecy?”
“He may have Henry, since he was French, nevertheless, he forebodes major events of our time, this the second century for which he wrote quatrains, the first being his. Obviously, thrice twenty and six is the dreadful year 1666; I need not tell ye there has never been a year more evil.”
“Well he certainly foretold the Great Fire—I’ll never forget it. Only the tender age of seven, my father dead, my mother and I escaped with just the clothes on our back. He was strongly Catholic, and no doubt had a dislike of Protestants, correctly predicting the destruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral; he does seem to interpret that inferno and the hellish Plague of ‘65 as God’s vengeance for our break from the ‘Mother Church.’ Who are the ‘just blood,’ condemned without crime? And who outrages her by pretense?”
“His view of course,” said Nicholas, “that God is outraged by our practice of burying our Kings and secular men with the full honors reserved for the Church saints. No doubt, since Henry VIII, our marriage of the secular and sacred has been at the foundation of England’s Church.
Do not look too deeply into the particulars of the quatrains. Let it suffice that the events do justice to Nostradamus as a seer, for all that was foretold in these two quatrains has happened.”
“Yes, but Nature obeys God’s bidding,” I said. “Calamity of horrendous proportions though the plague was, it was snuffed out by the equal horror of the Great Fire. Was there no way to stop it but by a fiery purification? God’s ways are above the inquisition of men’s thoughts.” I said.
“Well put Henry, a philosopher hides behind your musical soul.”
Near twilight, Culpepper began closing the curtains to his modest frame windows lighting a fagot by some coals from a small brass urn kept by the hearth. He lit incense, as well as the candle stubs at his divining desk. The punk extinguished, the incense snuffed, twisting trails of serpentine smoke were illuminated in the last rays of sunset through the partially closed curtains. A slight breeze, filtering through a cracked window, caused the taper flames to falter, throwing grotesque dancing shadows on the walls and ceiling. The array of drying herbage hanging in clumps about the walls magnified the effect.
Poor Sedwick, having replenished himself with the refreshment provided by Culpepper, had removed to the carriage for a short respite with the reason that his heavy driving duties had fatigued him beyond his ability to be reasonable company.
“It’s well known that the vaporous spirit mingled with Nostradamus when all was still,” said Nicholas. “He would touch the water in his basin with his rod and this by his own admission in his text on ‘magic’ in Century I, Quatrain I:”
The rod in hand set in the midst of the Branches,
I moisten with water both the fringe and foot;
Fear and a voice make me quake in my sleeves;
Splendour divine, the God is seated near.
“Did he behold a voice speak to him his quatrain?” I asked. “Or, did he write of what he saw?”
“He claims he saw images in the calm mirror of the basin’s water, unfolding as the procession of the Centuries, thus his book’s namesake. One touch of the stick when he is prayerful invokes his familiar spirit to appear in vapor above the basin, consecrated by the prescribed rites. An unwilling shivering agitates his hand to write from dictation, as the oracular light shines, and the angel sits at his side. His arm becomes the instrument to the dictation of spirit. In the mirror of light and water, like ripples expanding on a still lake, outward expand the images of the centuries, one episode at a time.
When he has caught the essence of the events his hand mystically stops, the images vanish beneath the placid water’s face, and the light fades with the vapor. Thus, you can see that even Nostradamus could not always understand the meaning, but was a faithful servant of God and the instrument of angels.
As the images race ahead to ever more strange and distant times, they became bizarre, he barely able to transcribe them. Then one evening, too strange for words or for his vaporous Angel at his side, the God seated near removes and is done with whatever purpose he held for him. Or, had he reached the end of time?”
to be continued... [or you could actually break down and buy the novel: it's on sale here at AD at $5 off!] I could use a sale! Haven't sold one at this site AD!