Monday, 10 May 2010

Orange roots

My history in some areas is very shaky. Recently Wayland Wordsmith featured a 1690 poem concerning a war I'd never heard of: the Nine Years' War when the French fought the Grand Alliance (just about everyone else in Europe, including England) in 1688-1697. One of its sea engagements was the 1690 Battle of Beachy Head, in which the French fleet under Admiral Touville was victorious, but failed to follow up the advantage and instead sacked the completely unstrategic port of Teignmouth (Touville himself was sacked for this).

However, unstrategic or not, it was no fun for the inhabitants, who petitioned the Lord Lieutenant with this account:

... on the 26th day of this instant July 1690 by Foure of the clocke in the morning, your poor petitioners were invaded (by the French) to the number of 1,000 or thereabouts, who in the space of three hours tyme, burnt down to the ground the dwelling houses of 240 persons of our parish and upwards, plundered and carried away all our goods, defaced our churches, burnt ten of our ships in the harbour, besides fishing boats, netts and other fishing craft ...

Apart from a national relief fund fetching £11,000, Teignmouth received a poem of commiseration, Upon Tingmouth, by Philip Avant, vicar of Salcombe Regis. Not a great deal is known about Avant, a minor poet and a strong supporter of William III, beyond the brief entry in William Henry Kearley Wright's 1896 West-country Poets: their Lives and Works.

A Vicar of Salcombe of this name was a writer of poetry, among which are some local poems in praise of Torbay, and on the burning of Teignmouth by the French in 1680. The title of one of his publications is given in the Bibliotheca Devoniensis: Torbaia digna Camaenis ad Gulielmum tertium regem gratissimum. Ecclesiae Anglicanae conservatorem. Authore Philippo Avant, minimo indignissimo Ecclesiae Anglianae Presbytero: London, 1692. This contained, besides the above, some poems in honour of William and Mary ' On the Fall of Belgrade,' and others to Bishop Burnet.

The London-printed 1693 English edition had the even more grandiose title, "Torbaia digna Camaenis or The Wonderful Deliverance vouchsafed these Nations in the late Revolution and seasonable Landing of His most Sacred Majesty King WILLIAM III at Torbay, worthy to be written in indelible Characters, with a Pen of Iron and the Point of a Diamond ; yea so to be engraven on all Protestant Hearts as never to be worn out even to the World's End, a POEM originally written in Latin and now translated into English by the Author, PHILIP AVANT."

Rosalind Northcote, in her Devon, Its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts, quotes a little of the book, saying of it:

Fishermen and others gave a very cordial welcome to the Prince of Orange when he arrived on November 5, 1688. But by no one can he have been more vehemently applauded than by the author of the lines I have quoted at the head of the present chapter—the Rev Philip Avant, Vicar of Salcombe. The poem, originally written in Latin, and translated by the author, takes up almost the whole of his small and rather rare volume, Torbaia digna Camœnsis. It is in parts unintentionally amusing, and is interesting as showing how far the frenzied fervour of bigotry may carry a naturally amiable person, for in the narrow intervals between his torrents of denunciation it is clear that Mr Avant was, in ordinary matters, a kindly-disposed man.

She's referrring to the following section:

'Torbay, unknown to the Aonian Quire,
Nothing oblig'd to any Poet's lyre ...
The Muses had no Matter from thy Bay,
To make thee famous till great William's Day....
To Orange only and Batavia's Seed
Remain'd this glory, as of old decreed,
To make thy Name immortal, and thy Shore
More famous and renown'd than heretofore....
O happy, happy Bay! All future times
Shall speak of thee renown'd in foreign Climes!...
Muses have matter now, enough to make
Poets of Peasants for Torbaia's sake....
King David's Deeds were sung, and Triumphs too,
And why should not Great Orange have his due?
Supream in Earth, Dread Sovereign thou art;
Long may'st thou reign, we pray with all our heart.'

The classical/historical references lead down some interesting etymological paths. The "Aonian Quire" who'll sing in all future times in praise of Torbay are the Muses, who were supposed to come from Aonia. "Batavia's Seed" refers to the Dutch, whose precursors were the Batavi (aka Batavians), a Germanic tribe who occupied an area of the Rhine delta and whose name derived from batawjō, "good island": the area is still called Betuwe. This explains all subsequent uses of the name Batavia: whether as the East India Company ship Batavia; the historical name for the Netherlands (see the 1728 Batavia Illustrata); the colonial Dutch name for what is now Jakarta; the Batavian Republic; and many others.

Another snippet of the poem appeared in Devon Notes and Queries, volume 2, 1903, when a correspondent asked - without result, as far as I know - if anyone could unravel the allusions in the following section.

Dartmouth is overjoyed, etc.
Nor canst thou, Kingswear, etc., nor Hew
Forbear to give the great Nassau his due.
The ghost that heretofore did haunt thy Downs
And with loud clamours fright the neighbouring clowns,
Is silent.

I can't shed much light on it, except to speculate that "clowns" might be a misprint for "towns". The "great Nassau" also refers to William of Orange, who came from the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau. Nassau being the name of the capital of the Bahamas is no etymological coincidence; the original Nassau was in what's now Germany, but Nassau, Bahamas (originally Charles Town) was named in honour of William III of Orange. The word "Orange" is itself is etymologically interesting; the Principality of Orange is nothing to do with oranges, but derives its name from the original Roman settlement Arausio (apparently named after a Celtic water god); the name of the fruit comes from an entirely different Dravidian root similar to the Sanskrit naranga. By around the 13th century, the two words had both mutated to "orange" and an etymological fusion was pretty inevitable. This was cemented by the Protestant House of Orange adopting orange heraldic motifis and orange-coloured regalia, hence Orangemen.

Avant died in 1696: Mary Jones' 1875 The History of Chudleigh, Devon: with a description of the surrounding scenery, seats, families, etc mentions

From an inscription on a stone in the chancel of the church to the memory of Philip Avant, died Nov. 28, 1696, and described as the only son of Stephen "Gymnasiarchae Chudliensis," it has been conjectured that the said Stephen was master of Chudleigh Grammar School.

Fraser Halle's 1851 Letters, historical and botanical, relating chiefly to places in the Vale of Teign: and particularly to Chudleigh, Lustleigh, Canonteign, and Bovey-Tracey also mentions the inscription, confirming that this was the same Philip Avant, "Vic. de Salcombe".

It's a pity more of his 48-page Torbaia digna Camaenis isn't online; however, a copy resides in the Devon and Exeter Institution. I'm quite tempted to go and transcribe it one day.


  1. In the case of the Rev Avant's pome, I fear Ms Northcote has hold of the wrong end of the leaf. "Batavia's Seed" actually refers to some Dutch skunk King Billy dropped on landing, which was carefully cultivated by the locals and made "Poets of Peasants," or so they thought. The Papist reaction is ongoing.

  2. Makes sense: I wrote about the Devonian hemp industry in 2009 (see Big Talk at Wreyland).

  3. Interesting that this was taking place at the same time as the Battle of the Boyne, with all that followed that up to the present. Apparently James II and the French missed their chance in the Irish Sea when William was sailing for Ireland. Also interesting is that one of James officers was named Talbot. Since I live in Talbot County (for Trench Talbot) I looked him up. Apparently no relation.