Site Meter

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Table Talk of Mr Andrew Marvell on his Late Mission to the Duke of Muscovie

Below a short story (of a kind) on Andrew Marvell’s ill-fated trade mission to Russia. I’m prompted to post by the discovery that Matthew Francis has devoted the title sequence of his new book Muscovy to the same subject. But my own inspiration entirely independent, let me hereby insist. {Waffling intro ends.}

As one challenged over cards on the Anabaptist controversy or the Hanoverian succession

Foolishly seated on a hogshead of rum the cabin boy tumbled in and was drowned

Nay, Sir, as Mr Milton has lately argued on the Popish question

A distant prospect of th’ingested vomit of the sea, otherwise Holland

Another evening lost on footling correspondence with the Hullites, the boundary fence twixt Mr Chadband’s tannery and the adjoining bawdy house still causing daily nuisance

A beluga, do you say! The Academy will hear of this

Arriving in Archangel, Carlisle was apprised of the withdrawal of the copper coin in the Muscovite duchy and addressed a missive on this subject to the court

The following thousand miles we travelled in six barges pulled by serfs, as is the custom of this land

Mistaken in my furs by a Vologda boatman for a small black bear

It being Guy Fawkes Night Midshipman Niblett did endeavour to dance a hornpipe on the ice, to general hilarity

The many signs of mobilisation against invasion by the Poles now plain to any traveller

Thou heathen slave!, Carlisle’s rebuke to the Muscovites who saw in him, he wrote, an idolatrous likeness of the image of His Majesty himself

But to whom his manservant would trade small pouches of tobacco for quarts of the local fire-water

A period of some three months’ idle waiting

Snubbed and ignored

[The next half hour’s remarks in Latin]

The frolicsome blockhead’s effrontery I threw back in his face, demanding redress

Finally entering the capital on two hundred sleighs to copious sennets, the gift exchange occupying three hours, the niceties of Muscovite protocol a further four days

Standing hatless in the sled, bearing the ambassador’s credentials on a yard of damask

Czar Alexei then appearing entirely covered in jewels, a magpie’s nest of his despot’s gewgaws

A boyar holding the despot’s hand while we kissed it, that his master not be put to any effort

Insolence upon insolence

For ‘Illustrissime’ in the address read ‘Serenissime’, complained the despot

Five hundred dishes served continuously for dinner yet, what’s this, trade privileges not restored? By the Turkoman’s beard!

A sorry disaster

The bootless gift of a sturgeon’s head mouldering away in my chamber

Missives of grievance flying back and forth like a persecution of summer flies all the way to Riga

Exceeding saddle-sore at this point and heartily tired of dining on mutton

The Stockholm interlude, the review of the Swedish fleet and the prototype submarine

An affray with a Hunnish wagoner, pistols drawn, and my rescue from a barbarous rout of peasants and mechanicks, my poor little page tossed up and down in the air

A beluga’s head in the water very like unto a dropsical Dutchman grinning horridly

The biscuits long before our journey’s end having become infested with weevils

Your Majesty! We have not been idle these past nineteen months

In the matter of the boundary fence alongside Mr Chadband’s yard, I recommend it be moved one foot to the left and not one word more be said on this tawdry affair