The author claims that he didn’t know anything about writing fiction. “I can’t bear fiction. I hate it. It’s so untidy. When I was a young man I wanted to be a poet, then I wrote a critical book, and I don’t think I even read a novel till I was about 26 or 27.” Despite this, there are some very vivid descriptions, such as the boy Tommy’s sense of smell and how somebody can become destitute and homeless.
Is it a detective novel? If so, there’s no neat ending. It has been described as an ‘anti-detective novel’ because it subverts the genre.
The novel moves between times (the nearest example I can think of, of something similar, is Garner’s Red Shift) though much seems the same: there are still homeless people, the same nursery rhymes and weather conditions appear. One commentator remarked “more and more … reduplications of names, events, actions, and even identical sentences uttered by characters who live two centuries apart, until we are forced to conclude that, in the novel, nothing progresses in time, that the same events repeat themselves endlessly, and that the same people live and die only in order to be born and to live the same events again.”
Our last book was ‘too linear’ whilst this had parallel threads which were, effectively, two linear stories until the last chapter, Maybe some ‘flashbacks’ would have improved it. Postmodern novels organise narrative time in non-linear fashion. Ackroyd called his concept of time in Hawksmoor “the perpetual present of the past” which “re-emerges in the most unlikely ways and propel(s) his readers into a zone of full temporal simultaneity.”
Time is bridged by reincarnation and many of the buildings in the area covered have symbolic meanings. For example: The White Hart pub has re-birth connection because old antlers are shed and new ones grown. Café Evolution suggests continual transformation in order so as to adapt to changing circumstances. The Green Dragon House suggests a rebirth symbol due to the shedding of skin. It also represents power: green for fertility. (For more details, see ‘THE CONCEPT OF TIME IN POSTMODERN FICTION’. For more on Structure and Narrative Mode, Style, Symbolism, also, the historical background, and the occult versus the Enlightenment, literary influences such as William Blake, T S. Eliot and Ian Sinclair’s Lud Heat)
Characters are contrasted. The rationalism of members of the Royal Society is dismissed: “The Company buzzed like Flies above Ordure” and Detective Hawksmoor’s detachment, shown in his waiting for another murder is outwitted by the irrational.
There is a strong sense of place, known by some as psychogeography. The city is seen by many as modern, a progress of reason and order; for some, it is the New Jerusalem; for Freemasons there is symbolic order meaning in ‘the Square Mile.’ yet Dyer points out that it was Cain, the murderer, who built the first City. Dyer is sceptical of this: “They build Edifices which they call Systems by laying their Foundacions in the Air and, when they think they are come to sollid Ground, the Building dissapears and the Architects tumble down from the Clowds.” (For more details about psychogeography, see Paul Newland’s ‘On an Eastern Arc’: Reading Iain Sinclair’s interest in Christ Church, Spitalfields and its uncanny territory through East End discourse at http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/september2005/newland.html)
Wren’s words that “This is our time . . . and we must lay its Foundacions with our own Hands” are criticised by Dyer: “London grows more Monstruous, Straggling out of all Shape: in this Hive of Noise and Ignorance.”
Instead of a new city based on rational thought and science, Dyer sees a monstrous bee-hive, expanding too fast and obsessed with time and news.
Alternatively, it could be said that the East End, with its ‘raw’ life, is being pushed out by trade and capitalism; its chaos being encroached upon by ‘order’ as the buildings of the city’s financial sector grows beyond its boundaries.
Different people inhabit the city at different times of the day: suited businessmen during working hours, criminals by night. Although millions pass by the same landmarks, each has a subjective map of associations inside his head and approaches it from different reference points. However, there is something about Hawksmoor’s churches that draws history towards them. It is as if they were built on leylines.
Maybe some commentators are reading too much into what might just be a hodgepodge that subverts reason and where sanity and madness are mixed up. Maybe the whole thing is really a graphic description of Hawksmoor’s mind as he approaches mental breakdown.
In one review, a woman complained that it is a “very masculine book to me, not many women, lots of action, not so much introspection, and a lot of visceral detail.”
Some our members said it was a ‘page-turner’, not least because one chapter is incomplete without reading the next. Break at the end of one chapter are you are likely to miss the clever resonances and connections that follow
Others found the book irritating and difficult and wondered whether a book should speak for itself rather than readers having to google to get explanations and interpretations.
Maybe some of us might take a tour/pilgrimage to see these churches, stopping at the many alehouse en route.
Oct 2012 “I have liv’d long enough for others, like the Dog in the Wheel, and it is now the Season to begin for myself: I cannot change that Thing call’d Time, but I can alter its Posture and, as Boys do turn a looking-glass against the Sunne, so I will dazzle you all.
“He stood beneath the white tower, and looked up at it with that mournful expression which his face always carried in repose: for one moment he thought of climbing up its cracked and broken stone, and then from its summit screaming down at the silent city as a child might scream at a chained animal.”
“Is Dust immortal then, I ask’d him, so that we may see it blowing through the Centuries? But as Walter gave no Answer I jested with him further to break his Melancholy humour: What is Dust, Master Pyne?
And he reflected a little: It is particles of Matter, no doubt.
Then we are all Dust indeed, are we not?
And in a feigned Voice he murmered, For Dust thou art and shalt to Dust return. Then he made a Sour face, but only yo laugh the more.”
“For when I trace back the years I have liv’d, gathering them up in my Memory, I see what a chequer’d Work Of Nature my life has been. If I were now to inscribe my own History with its unparalleled Sufferings and surprising Adventures (as the Booksellers might indite it), I know that the great Part of the World would not believe the Passages there related, by reason of the Strangeness of them, but I cannot help their Unbelief; and if the Reader considers them to be but dark Conceits, then let him bethink himself that Humane life is quite out of the Light and that we are all Creatures of Darknesse.”
“I lack the World, for I move like a Ghost through it.”
“Destruction is like a snow-ball rolled down a Hill, for its Bulk increases by its own swiftness and thus Disorder spreads.”
“His body had become a companion which seemed always about to leave him: it had its own pains which moved him to pity, and its own particular movements which he tried hard to follow. He had learned from it how to keep his eyes down on the road, so that he could see no one, and how important it was never to look back – although there were times when memories of an earlier life filled him with grief and he lay face down upon the grass until the sweet rank odour of the earth brought him to his senses. But slowly he forgot where it was he had come from, and what it was he was escaping.”
“And now we come to the Heart of our Designe: the art of Shaddowes you must know well, Walter, and you must be instructed how to Cast them with due Care. It is only the Darknesse that can give trew Forme to our Work and trew Perspective to our Fabrick, for there is no Light without Darknesse and no Substance without Shaddowe (and I turn this Thought over in my Mind: what Life is there which is not a Portmanteau of Shaddowes and Chimeras?). I build in the Day to bring News of the Night and of Sorrowe, I continued, and then I broke off for Walter’s sake.”
“There were some places, and streets, where he did not venture since he had learnt that others had claims there greater than his own – not the gangs of meths drinkers who lived in no place and no time, nor the growing number of the young who moved on restlessly across the face of the city, but vagrants like himself who, despite the name which the world has given them, had ceased to wander and now associated themselves with one territory or ‘province’ rather than another. All of them led solitary lives, hardly moving from their own warren of streets and buildings: it is not known whether they chose the area, or whether the area itself had callen them and taken them in, but they had become the guardian spirits (as it were) of each place. Ned now knew some of their names: Watercress Joe, who haunted the streets by St Mary Woolnoth, Black Sam who lived and slept beside the Commercial Road between Whitechapel and Limehouse, Harry the Goblin who was seen only by Spitalfields and Artillery Lane, Mad Frank who walked continually through the streets of Bloomsbury, Italian Audrey who was always to be found in the dockside area of Wapping (it was she who had visited Ned in his shelter many years before), and ‘Alligator’ who never moved from Greenwich.”
“Then as we passed down this Passage we were knocked against certain Women of the Town, who gave us Eye-language, since there were many Corners and Closets in Bedlam where they would stop and wait for Custom: indeed it was known as a sure Market for Lechers and Loiterers, for tho’ they came in Single they went out by Pairs. This is a Showing-room for Whores, I said.
And what better place for Lust, Sir Chris. replied, than among those whose Wits have fled?”
“…but there were four things I taught Walter to consider: 1) That it was Cain who built the first City, 2) That there is a true Science in the World called Scientia Umbrarum which, as to the publick teaching of it, has been suppressed but which the proper Artificer must comprehend, 3) That Architecture aims at Eternity and must contain the Eternal Powers: not only our Altars and Sacrifices, but the Forms of our Temples, must be mysticall, 4) That the miseries (If the present Life, and the Barbarities of Mankind, the fatall disadvantages we are all under and the Hazard we run of being eternally Undone, lead the True Architect not to Harmony or to Rationall Beauty but to quite another Game. Why, do we not believe the very Infants to be the Heirs of Hell and Children of the Devil as soon as they are disclos’d to the World? I declare that I build my Churches firmly on this Dunghil Earth and with a full Conception of Degenerated Nature. I have only room to add: there is a mad-drunken Catch, Hey ho! The Devil is dead! If that be true, I have been in the wrong Suit all my Life.”
“As the Houses tumbled upon the Streets with a great roaring Noise, they cryed out We are undone! We are great Sinners! and the like: and yet as soon as the Danger was passed, they came back with their:
Hey ho the Devil is Dead!
Eat, drink, and go merry to Bed!
Thus the Sick confesse to their Contagion only when they are like to Die of it, even tho’ they carry their Death with them every where.”
“…for who can speak of the Mazes of the Serpent to those who are not lost in them?”
“You say that it is time to shake off the Mist, but Mankind walks in a Mist; that Reason which you cry up as the Glory of this Age is a Proteus and Cameleon that changes its Shape almost in every Man: there is no Folly that may not have a thousand Reasons produc’d to advance it into the Class of Wisdom. Reason itself is a Mist.”
“The latter part of our Journey from the entrance of Wiltshire into Salisbury was very rough and abounded with Jolts, the Holes we were obliged to go through being very many and some of them Deep; and so it was with much Relief that we left the Coach at Salisbury and hired two Horses for the road across the Avon to the Plain and Stone-henge. When we came to the edge of this sacred Place, we tethered our Horses to the Posts provided and then, with the Sunne direct above us, walked over the short grass which (continually cropt by the flocks of Sheep) seemed to spring us forward to the great Stones. I stood back a little as Sir Chris. walked on, and I considered the Edifice with steadinesse: there was nothing here to break the Angles of Sight and as I gaz’d I opened my Mouth to cry out but my Cry was silent; I was struck by an exstatic Reverie in which all the surface of this Place seemed to me Stone, and the Sky itself Stone, and I became Stone as I joined the Earth which flew on like a Stone through the Firmament. And thus I stood until the Kaw of a Crow rous’d me: and yet even the call of the black Bird was an Occasion for Terrour, since it was not of this Time. I know not how long a Period I had traversed in my Mind, but Sir Chris. was still within my Sight when my Eyes were cleard of Mist. He was walking steadily towards the massie Structure and I rushed violently to catch him, for I greatly wished to enter the Circle before him. I stopped him with a Cry and then ran on: when Crows kaw more than ordinary, said I when I came up to him all out of Breath, we may expect Rain. Pish, he replied. He stopped to tye his Shooe, so then I flew ahead of him and first reached the Circle which was the Place of Sacrifice. And I bowed down.”
“Now his work-mates pitied him, although they tried not to show it, and it was generally arranged that he was given jobs which allowed him to work alone. The smell of ink, and the steady rhythm of the press, then induced in him a kind of peace – it was the peace he felt when he arrived early, at a time when he might be the only one to see the morning light as it filtered through the works or to hear the sound of his footsteps echoing through the old stone building. At such moments he was forgetful of himself and thus of others until he heard their voices, raised in argument or in greeting, and he would shrink into himself again. At other times he would stand slightly to one side and try to laugh at their jokes, but when they talked about sex he became uneasy and fell silent for it seemed to him to be a fearful thing. He still remembered how the girls in the schoolyard used to chant,
Kiss me, kiss me if you can
I will put you in my pan,
Kiss me, kiss me as you said
I will fry you till you’re dead
And when he thought of sex, it was as of a process which could tear him limb from limb. He knew from his childhood reading that, if he ran into the forest, there would be a creature lying in wait for him.”
“And across these mean Dwellings of Black Step Lane, where as a Boy I dwell’d for a while, the Shaddowe of my last Church will fall: what the Mobb has torn down I will build again in Splendour. And thus will I compleet the Figure: Spittle-Fields, Wapping and Lime-house have made the Triangle; Bloomsbury and St Mary Woolnoth have next created the major Pentacle-starre; and, with Greenwich, all these will form the Sextuple abode of Baal-Berith or the Lord of the Covenant. Then, with the church of Little St Hugh, the Septilateral Figure will rise about Black Step Lane and, in this Pattern, every Straight line is enrich’d with a point at Infinity and every Plane with a line at Infinity. Let him that has Understanding count the Number: the seven Churches are built in conjunction with the seven Planets in the lower Orbs of Heaven, the seven Circles of the Heavens, the seven Starres in Ursa Minor and the seven Starres in the Pleiades. Little St Hugh was flung in the Pitte with the seven Marks upon his Hands, Feet, Sides and Breast which thus exhibit the seven Demons – Beydelus, Metucgayn, Adulec, Demeymes, Gadix, Uquizuz and Sol. I have built an everlasting Order, which I may run through laughing: no one can catch me now.”
“He was walking around in circles, the smell of the old furniture suddenly very distinct. There was a newspaper in his hand and he started reading it, paying particular attention to the headlines which seemed to be floating towards him so that now a band of black print encircled his forehead. He was curled upon the bed, hugging his knees, when the next horror came upon him: those who heard him last night would now have to report his theft, and his employer would call the police. He saw how the policeman took the telephone call at the station; how his name and address were spoken out loud; how he looked down at the floor as they led him away; how he was in the dock, forced to answer questions about himself, and now he was in a cell and had lost control of his own body. He was staring out of the window at the passing clouds when it occurred to him that he should write to his employer, explaining his drunkenness and confessing that he invented the story of theft; but who would believe him? It was always said that in drink there was truth, and perhaps it was true that he was a convicted thief. He began to sing,
One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead men got up to fight
and then he knew what was meant by madness.”
“His terror became his companion. When it seemed to diminish, or grow easier to bear, he forced himself to remember the details of what he had said and done so that his fears returned, redoubled. His previous life, which had been without fear, he now dismissed as an illusion since he had come to believe that only in fear could the truth be found. When he woke from sleep without anxiety, he asked himself, What is wrong? What is missing? And then his door opened slowly, and a child put its head around and gazed at him: there are wheels, Ned thought, wheels within wheels. The curtains were now always closed, for the sun horrified him: he was reminded of a film he had seen some time before, and how the brightness of the noonday light had struck the water where a man, in danger of drowning, was struggling for his life.”
“As soon as he had left the room and walked into the air, he knew that he would never return and for the first time his fears lifted. It was a spring morning, and when he walked into Severndale Park he felt the breeze bringing back memories of a much earlier life, and he was at peace. He sat beneath a tree and looked up at its leaves in amazement – where once he might have gazed at them and sensed there only the confusion of his own thoughts, now each leaf was so clear and distinct that he could see the lightly coloured veins which carried moisture and life. And he looked down at his own hand, which seemed translucent beside the bright grass. His head no longer ached, and as he lay upon the earth he could feel its warmth beneath him.”
“Be informed, also, that this good and savoury Parish is the home of Hectors, Trapanners, Biters who all go under the general appelation of Rooks. Here are all the Jilts, Cracks, Prostitutes, Night-walkers, Whores, Linnen-lifters, who are like so many Jakes, Privies, Houses of Office, Ordures, Excrements, Easments and piles of Sir-reverence: the whores of Ratcliffe High-way smell of Tarpaulin and stinking Cod from their continuall Traffick with seamen’s Breeches. There are other such wretched Objects about these ruined Lanes, all of them lamentable Instances of Vengeance. And it is not strange (as some think) how they will haunt the same Districts and will not leave off their Crimes until they are apprehended, for these Streets are their Theatre. Theft, Whoredom and Homicide peep out of the very Windows of their Souls; Lying, Perjury, Fraud, Impudence and Misery are stamped upon their very Countenances as now they walk within the Shaddowe of my Church.”
“We went back into the Mens Apartments where there were others raving of Ships that may fly and silvered Creatures upon the Moon: Their Stories seem to have neither Head nor Tayl to them, Sir Chris. told me, but there is a Grammar in them if I could but Puzzle it out.
This is a mad Age, I replied, and there are many fitter for Bedlam than these here confin’d to a Chain or a dark Room.
A sad Reflection, Nick.
And what little Purpose have we to glory in our Reason, I continu’d, when the Brain may so suddenly be disorder’d?”
“And when the Duke of Alva ordered three hundred Citizens to be put to Death together at Antwerp, a Lady who saw the Sight was presently afterwards deliver’d of a Child without a Head. So lives the Power of Imagination even in this Rationall Age.”
“This mundus tenebrosus, this shaddowy world of Mankind, is sunk into Night; there is not a Field without its Spirits, nor a City without its Daemons, and the Lunaticks speak Prophesies while the Wise men fall into the Pitte. We are all in the Dark, one with another. And, as the Inke stains the Paper on which it is spilt and slowly spreads to Blot out the Characters, so the Contagion of darkness and malefaction grows apace until all becomes unrecognizable. Thus it was with the Witches who were tryed by Swimming not long before, since once the Prosecution had commenced no Stop could be put to the raving Women who came forward: the number of Afflicted and Accused began to encrease and, upon Examination, more confess’d themselves guilty of Crimes than were suspected of. And so it went, till the Evil revealed was so great that it threatened to bring all into Confusion.
And yet in the way of that Philosophie much cryed up in London and elsewhere, there are those like Sir Chris. who speak only of what is Rational and what is Demonstrated, of Propriety and Plainness. Religion Not Mysterious is their Motto, but if they would wish the Godhead to be Reasonable why was it that when Adam heard that Voice in the Garden he was afraid unto Death? The Mysteries must become easy and familiar, it is said, and it has now reached such a Pitch that there are those who wish to bring their mathematicall Calculations into Morality, viz. the Quantity of Publick Good produced by any Agent is a compound Ratio of his Benevolence and Abilities, and such like Excrement. They build Edifices which they call Systems by laying their Foundacions in the Air and, when they think they are come to sollid Ground, the Building disappears and the Architects tumble down from the Clowds. Men that are fixed upon matter, experiment, secondary causes and the like have forgot there is such a thing in the World which they cannot see nor touch nor measure: it is the Praecipice into which they will surely fall.”
“There are those who say further that these are meer Dreames and no true Relations, but I say back to them: look upon my Churches in the Spittle-fields, in Limehouse, and now in the Parish of Wapping Stepney, and do you not wonder why they lead you into a darker World which on Reflection you know to be your own? Every Patch of Ground by them has its Hypochondriack Distemper and Disorder; every Stone of them bears the marks of Scorching by which you may follow the true Path of God.”
“I need to know when,’ he said, ‘In this case when is more important than how. Do you have a time-table?’ For although images of this murder now surrounded him, and the parts of the body had become emblems of pursuit, violence and flight, they were as broken and indistinct as the sounds of a quarrel in a locked room.”
“He walked back to St George’s-in-the-East, which in his mind he had now reduced to a number of surfaces against which the murderer might have leaned in sorrow, desperation or even, perhaps, joy. For this reason it was worth examining the blackened stones in detail, although he realised that the marks upon them had been deposited by many generations of men and women. It was now a matter of received knowledge in the police force that no human being could rest or move in any area without leaving some trace of his or her identity; but if the walls of the Wapping church were to be analysed by emission spectroscopy, how many partial or residual spectra might be detected? And he had an image of a mob screaming to be set free as he guided his steps towards the tower which rose above the houses cluttered around Red Maiden Lane, Crab Court and Rope Walk.”
“On his thirteenth birthday he had seen a film in which the central character was a painter who, unable to sell his work, grew cold and hungry as he went from one unsuccessful interview to the next; eventually he had become a vagrant, sleeping in the streets of the city where once he had walked in hope. Hawksmoor left the cinema in a mood of profound, terrified apprehension and, from that time, he was filled with a sense of time passing and with the fear that he might be left discarded on its banks. The fear had not left him, although now he could no longer remember from where it came: he looked back on his earlier life without curiosity, since it seemed to lack intrinsic interest, and when he looked forward he saw the same steady attainment of goals without any joy in their attainment. For him, the state of happiness was simply the state of not suffering and, if he cared for anything, it was for oblivion.”
“It’s difficult to know where to begin, sir.’
‘Yes, the beginning is the tricky part. But perhaps there is no beginning, perhaps we can’t look that far back.’ He got up from his desk and went over to the window, from where he could see thin pillar of smoke rising into the clouds. ‘I never know where anything comes from, Walter.’
‘Comes from, sir?’
‘Where you come from, where I come from, where all this comes from.’ And he gestured at the offices and homes beneath him. He was about to say something else but he stopped, embarrassed; and in any case he was coming to the limits of his understanding. He was not sure if all the movements and changes in the world were part of some coherent development, like the weaving of a quilt which remains one fabric despite its variegated pattern. Or was it a more delicate operation than this – like the enlarging surface of a balloon in the sense that, although each part increased at the same rate of growth as every other part, the entire object grew more fragile as it expanded? And if one element was suddenly to vanish, would the others disappear also – imploding upon each other helplessly as if time itself were unravelling amid a confusion of Sights, calls, shrieks and phrases of music which grew smaller and smaller? He thought of a train disappearing into the distance, until eventually only the smoke and the smell of its engine remained.”
“She went downstairs slowly and sat in front of the fire, rocking herself to and fro as she imagined all of the harm he might have suffered: she could see him enticed into a car by a stranger, she could see him knocked down by a lorry in the road, she could see him falling into the Thames and being carried away by the tide. It was her instinctive belief, however, that if she dwelled upon such scenes in sufficient detail she could prevent them from occurring: anxiety was, for her, a form of prayer. And then she spoke his name aloud, as if she were able to conjure him into existence.”
“So now I lye by Day and toss or rave by Night, since the ratling and perpetual Hum of the Town deny me rest: just as Madness and Phrensy are the vapours which rise from the lower Faculties, so the Chaos of the Streets reaches up even to the very Closet here and I am whirl’d about by cries of Knives to Grind and Here are your Mouse-Traps. I was last night about to enter the Shaddowe of Rest when a Watch-man, half-drunken, thumps at the Door with his Past Three-a-clock and his Rainy Wet Morning. And when at length I slipp’d into Sleep I had no sooner forgot my present Distemper than I was plunged into a worse: I dreamd my self to be lying in a small place under ground, like unto a Grave, and my Body was all broken while others sung. And there was a Face that did so terrifie me that I had like to have expired in my Dream. Well, I will say no more.”
“The rest I omit, for many a bitter Pill can be swallowed under a golden Cover: I make no Mencion that in each of my Churches I put a Signe so that he who sees the Fabrick may see also the Shaddowe of the Reality of which it is the Pattern or Figure. Thus, in the church of Lime-house, the nineteen Pillars in the Aisles will represent the Names of Baal-Berith, the seven Pillars of the Chappell will signify the Chapters of his Covenant. All those who wish to know more of this may take up Clavis Salomonis, Niceron’s Thaumaturgus Opticus where he speaks of Line and Distance, Cornelius Agrippa his De occuItia philosophia and Giordano Bruno his De magia and De vinculis in genere where he speaks of Hieroglyphs and the Raising of the Devilles.”
“I would have no need for the Memory Of Things past if those which were Present were more agreeable”
“I have had so many Dwellings, Nat, that I know these Streets as well as a strowling Beggar: I was born in this Nest of Death and Contagion and now, as they say, I have learned to feather it. When first I was with Sir Chris. I found lodgings in Phenix Street off Hogg Lane, close by St Giles and Tottenham Fields, and then in later times I was lodged at the corner of Queen Street and Thames Street, next to the Blew Posts in Cheapside. (It is still there, said Nat stirring up from his Seat, I have passed it!) In the time before the Fire, Nat, most of the buildings in London were made of timber and plaister, and stones were so cheap that a man might have a cart-load of them for six-pence or seven-pence; but now, like the Aegyptians, we are all for Stone. (And Nat broke in, I am for Stone!) The common sort of People gawp at the prodigious Rate of Building and exclaim to each other London is now another City or that House was not there Yesterday or the Situacion of the Streets is quite Changd (I contemn them when they say such things! Nat adds). But this Capital City of the World of Affliction is still the Capitol of Darknesse, or the Dungeon of Man’s Desires: still in the Centre are no proper Streets nor Houses but a Wilderness of dirty rotten Sheds, allways tumbling or takeing Fire, with winding crooked passages, lakes of Mire and rills of stinking Mud, as befits the smokey grove of Moloch. (I have heard of that Gentleman, says Nat all a quiver). It is true that in what we call the Out-parts there are numberless ranges of new Buildings: in my old Black-Eagle Street, Nat, tenements have been rais’d and where my Mother and Father stared without understanding at their Destroyer (Death! he cryed) new-built Chambers swarm with life. But what a Chaos and Confusion is there: meer fields of Grass give way to crooked Passages and quiet Lanes to smoking Factors, and these new Houses, commonly built by the London workmen, are often burning and frequently tumbling down (I saw one, says he, I saw one tumbling!). Thus London grows more Monstrous, Straggling and out of all Shape: in this Hive of Noise and Ignorance, Nat, we are tyed to the World as to a sensible Carcasse and
as we cross the stinking Body we call out What News? or What’s a clock? And thus do I pass my Days a stranger to mankind. I’ll not be a Stander-by, but you will not see me pass among them in the World. (You will disquiet your self, Master, says Nat coming towards me). And what a World is it, of Tricking and Bartering, Buying and Selling, Borrowing and Lending, Paying and Receiving; when I walk among the Piss and Sir-reverence of the Streets I hear, Money makes the old Wife trot, Money makes the Mare to go (and Nat adds, What Words won’t do, Gold will). What is their God but shineing Dirt and to sing its Devotions come the Westminster-Hall-whores, the Charing-cross whores, the Whitehall whores, the Channel-row whores, the Strand whores, the Fleet Street whores, the Temple-bar whores; and they are followed in the same Catch by the Riband weavers, the Silver-lace makers, the Upholsterers, the Cabinet-makers, Watermen, Carmen, Porters, Plaisterers, Lightemen, Footmen, Shopkeepers, Journey-men… and my Voice grew faint through the Curtain of my Pain.”
“…and when the Assembly arrived at Dusk I hasten’d into the Streets and made my self a child of Hazard. There was a Band of little Vagabonds who met by moon-light in the Moorfields, and for a time I wandred with them; most of them had been left as Orphans in the Plague and, out of the sight of Constable or Watch, would call out to Passers-by Lord Bless you give us a Penny or Bestow a half penny on us: I still hear their Voices in my Head when I walk abroad in a Croud, and some times I am seiz’d with Trembling to think I may be still one of them.”
“I have long been of the Opinion, says he, that the Fire was a vast Blessing and the Plague likewise; it gave us Occasion to understand the Secrets of Nature which otherwise might have overwhelm’d us. (I busied my self with the right Order of the Draughts, and said nothing.) With what Firmness of Mind, Sir Chris. went on, did the People see their City devoured, and I can still remember how after the Plague and the Fire the Chearfulnesse soon returned to them: Forgetfulnesse is the great Mystery of Time.
I remember, I said as I took a Chair opposite to him, how the Mobb applauded the Flames. I remember how they sang and danced by the Corses during the Contagion: that was not Chearfulnesse but Phrenzy. And I remember, also, the Rage and the Dying –
These were the Accidents of Fortune, Nick, from which we have learned so much in this Generation.
It was said, sir, that the Plague and the Fire were no Accidents but Substance, that they were the Signes of the Beast withinne. And Sir Chris. laughed at this.
At which point Nat put his Face in: Do you call, sirs? Would you care for a Dish of Tea or some Wine?
Some Tea, some Tea, cried Sir Chris. for the Fire gives me a terrible Thirst. But no, no, he continued when Nat had left the Room, you cannot assign the Causes of Plague or Fire to Sin. It was the negligence of Men that provoked those Disasters and for Negligence there is a Cure; only Terrour is the Hindrance.
Terrour, I said softly, is the Lodestone of our Art.”
“…that Figure so impressd it self upon my Mind that I have been in a manner walking towards it all my Life. Then I peered into Wendel Dietterlin his Architectura, and there were unveiled to me the several Orders: of the Tuscan, which is now mine own, I was then mov’d by its Strangeness and Awefulness; the obscured Shapes, the Shaddowes and the massie Openings so in-chanted my Spirit that when looking on them I imagined my self to be lock’d in some dark and Enclosed space. The heavinesse of Stone did so oppress me that I was close to Extinction, and I fancied that I could see in the Engraver’s lines the sides of Demons, crumbled Walls, and half-humane Creatures rising from the Dust. There was some thing that waited for me there, already in Ruines.”
“It is one of the greatest Curses visited upon Mankind, he told me, that they shall fear where no Fear is: this astrological and superstitious Humour disarms men’s Hearts, it breaks their Courage, it makes them help to bring such Calamities on themselves. Then he stopped short and looked at me, but my Measure was not yet fill’d up so I begg’ d him to go on, go on. And he continued: First, they fancy that such ill Accidents must come to pass, and so they render themselves fit Subjects to be wrought upon; it is a Disgrace to the Reason and Honour of Mankind that every fantasticall Humourist can presume to interpret the Skies (here he grew Hot and put down his Dish) and to expound the Time and Seasons and Fates of Empires, assigning the Causes of Plagues and Fires to the Sins of Men or the Judgements of God. This weakens the Constancy of Humane Actions, and affects Men with Fears, Doubts, Irresolutions and Terrours.
I was afraid of your Moving Picture, I said without thought, and that was why I left.
It was only Clock-work, Nick.
But what of the vast Machine of the World, in which Men move by Rote but in which nothing is free from Danger?
Nature yields to the Froward and the Bold.
It does not yield, it devours: You cannot master or manage Nature.
But, Nick, our Age can at least take up the Rubbidge and lay the Foundacions: that is why we must study the principles of Nature, for they are our best Draught.
No, sir, you must study the Humours and Natures of Men: they are corrupt, and therefore your best Guides to understand Corrupcion.
The things of the Earth must be understood by the sentient Faculties, not by the Understanding.
There was a Silence between us now until Sir Chris. says, Is your Boy in the Kitchin? I am mighty Hungry.”
“Hawksmoor had often noticed how, in the moments when he first carne upon a corpse, all the objects around it wavered for an instant and became unreal- the trees which rose above a body hidden in woodland, the movement of the river which had washed a body onto its banks, the cars or hedges in a suburban street where a murderer had left a victim, all of these things seemed at such times to be suddenly drained of meaning like an hallucination.”
“Generally he knew by instinct the likely length of an investigation, but on this occasion he did not: as he fought to get his breath he suddenly saw himself as others must see him, and he was struck by the impossibility of his task. The event of the boy’s death was not simple because it was not unique and if he traced it backwards, running the time slowly in the opposite direction (but did it have a direction?), it became no clearer. The chain of causality might extend as far back as the boy’s birth, in a particular place and on a particular date, or even further into the darkness beyond that. And what of the murderer, for what sequence of events had drawn him to wander by this old church? All these events were random and yet connected, part of a pattern so large that it remained inexplicable. He might, then, have to invent a past from the evidence available – and, in that case, would not the future also be an invention? It was as if he were staring at one of those puzzle drawings in which foreground and background create entirely different images: you could not look at such a thing for long.”
“The music of a popular song now came from the radio as Hawksmoor gazed out of the window; and he saw a door closing, a boy dropping a coin in the street, a woman turning her head, a man calling. For a moment he wondered why such things were occurring now: could it be that the world sprang up around him only as he invented it second by second and that, like a dream, it faded into the darkness from which it had come as soon as he moved forward? But then he understood that these things were real: they would never cease to occur and they would always be the same, as familiar and as ever-renewed as the tears which he had just seen on the woman’s face.”
“It has often been said that the more unusual the murder the easier it is to solve, but this is a theory I don’t believe. Nothing is easy, nothing is simple, and you should think of your investigations as a complicated experiment: look at what remains constant and look at what changes, ask the right questions and don’t be afraid of wrong answers, and above all rely on observation and rely on experience.”
“To explain this Matter, and to wind up Time so that I am returned to my present State: Beside my Church at Limehouse there had antiently been a great Fen or Morass which had been a burying-place of Saxon times, with Graves lined with chalk-stones and beneath them earlier Tombs. Here my work men have found Urns and Ivory Pins once fasten’d to wooden Shrouds, and beside them Ashes and Skulls. This was indeed a massive Necropolis but it has Power still withinne it, for the ancient Dead emit a certain Material Vertue that will come to inhere in the Fabrick of this new Edifice. By day my House of Lime will catch and intangle all those who come near to it; by Night it will be one vast Mound of Shaddowe and Mistinesse, the effect of many Ages before History. And yet I had hot and present Work on hand, for I was in want of the Sacrifice to consecrate this Place: the Observations of Mirabilis upon the Rites, which I explained further back, are pertinent to this Matter; but this onely by the way.”
“The bell of Limehouse Church rang as each of them, in this house, drifted into sleep – suddenly once more like children who, exhausted by the day’s adventures, fall asleep quickly and carelessly. A solitary visitor, watching them as they slept, might wonder how it was that they had arrived at such a state and might speculate about each stage of their journey towards it: when did he first start muttering to himself, and not realise that he was doing so? When did she first begin to shy away from others and seek the shadows? When did all of them come to understand that whatever hopes they might have had were foolish, and that life was something only to be endured? Those who wander are always objects of suspicion and sometimes even of fear: the four people gathered in this house by the church had passed into a place, one might almost say a time, from which there was no return. The young man who had been bent over the fire had spent his life in a number of institutions – an orphanage, a juvenile home and most recently a prison; the old woman still clutching the brown bottle was an alcoholic who had abandoned her husband and two children many years before; the old man had taken to wandering after the death of his wife in a fire which he believed, at the time, he might have prevented. And what of Ned, who was now muttering in his sleep?”
“He was clearly not the murderer whom Hawksmoor was seeking, but it was generally the innocent who confessed: in the course of many enquiries, Hawksmoor had come across those who accused themselves of crimes which they had not committed and who demanded to be taken away before they could do more harm. He was acquainted with such people and recognised them at once – although they were noticeable, perhaps, only for a slight twitch in the eye or the awkward gait with which they moved through the world. And they inhabited small rooms to which Hawksmoor would sometimes be called: rooms with a bed and a chair but nothing besides, rooms where they shut the door and began talking out loud, rooms where they sat all evening and waited for the night, rooms where they experienced blind panic and then rage as they stared at their lives. And sometimes when he saw such people Hawksmoor thought, this is what I will become, I will be like them because I deserve to be like them, and only the smallest accident separates me from them now.”
“None of these apparent sightings interested Hawksmoor, since it was quite usual for members of the public to come forward with such accounts and to describe unreal figures who took on the adventitious shape already suggested by newspaper accounts. There were even occasions when a number of people would report sightings of the same person, as if a group of hallucinations might create their own object which then seemed to hover for a while in the streets of London. And Hawksmoor knew that if he held a reconstruction of the crime by the church, yet more people would come forward with their own versions of time and event; the actual killing then became blurred and even inconsequential, a flat field against which others painted their own fantasies of murderer and victim.”
“And I was a Child again, watching the bright World. But the Spell broke when at this Juncture some Gallants jumped from the Pitt onto the Stage and behaved as so many Merry-Andrews among the Actors, which reduced all to Confusion. I laugh’d with them also, for I like to make Merry among the Fallen and there is pleasure to be had in the Observation of the Deformity of Things. Thus when the Play resumed after the Disturbance, it was only to excite my Ridicule with its painted Fictions, wicked Hypocrisies and villainous Customs, all depicted with a little pert Jingle of Words and a rambling kind of Mirth to make the Insipidnesse and Sterility pass. There was no pleasure in seeing it, and nothing to burden the Memory after: like a voluntarie before a Lesson it was absolutely forgotten, nothing to be remembered or repeated.”
“I asked him what he said, for there was such a mish-mash of Conversation around us that I could scarcely understand him – the frequenters of Taverns have Hearts of Curd and Souls of Milk Sop, but they have Mouths like Cannons which stink of Tobacco and their own foul Breath as they cry What News? What’s a Clock? Methinks it’s Cold to Day! Thus is it a Hospital For Fools”
“DYER. (Sits down) There was nothing that I recall save that the Sunne was a Round flat shining Disc and the Thunder was a Noise from a Drum or a Pan.
VANNBRUGGHE. (Aside) What a Child is this! (To Dyer) These are only our Devices, and are like the Paint of our Painted Age.
DYER. But in Meditation the Sunne is a vast and glorious Body, and Thunder is the most forcible and terrible Phaenomenon: it is not to be mocked, for the highest Passion is Terrour.”
“DYER. No, I am not of your Mind, for the Dialogue was fitted up with too much Facility. Words must be pluckt from Obscurity and nourished with Care, improved with Art and corrected with Application. Labour and Time are the Instruments in the perfection of all Work.”
“Then he took the pages, smoothed them with the palm of his hand, and fixed them with pins to the walls. So that now, if he sat looking down upon Grape Street, the letters and images encircled him. And it was while he sat here, scarcely moving, that he was in hell and no one knew it. At such times the future became so clear that it was as if he were remembering it, remembering it in place of the past which he could no longer describe. But there was in any case no future and no past, only the unspeakable misery of his own self.”
“This mundus tenebrosus, this shaddowy world of Mankind, is sunk into Night; there is not a Field without its Spirits, nor a City without its Daemons, and the Lunaticks speak Prophesies while the Wise men fall into the Pitte.”
“If I were a Writer now, I would wish to thicken the water of my Discourse so that it was no longer easy or familiar. I would chuse a huge lushious Style!”
“…anxiety was, for her, a form of prayer.”
“Let Stone be your God and you will find God in the Stone.”
“I am in the Pitte, but I have gone so deep that I can see the brightness of the Starres at Noon.”
“dyer. (Looking at him scornfully) So that is why Wits swarm like Egypt’s Frogs. If I were a Writer now, I would wish to thicken the water of my Discourse so that it was no longer easy or familiar. I would chuse a huge lushious Style!
vannbrugghe. (Interrupting) Ah the music of Erudition, it is unimaginable to weaker Wits.
dyer. (Ignoring him) I would imploy outlandish Phrases and fantasti-call Terms, thus to restore Terrour, Reverence and Desire like wild Lightning.”
“from what Purse are we building these Churches, Walter?
From the Imposicion on Coles.
And are the Coles not the blackest Element, which with their Smoak hide the Sunne?
Certainly they feed the Fires of this City, says he.
And where is the Light and Easinesse there? Since we take our Revenues from the Under-world, what does it Signifie if we also Build upon the Dead?”
“Those in their snug Bed-chambers may call the Fears of Night meer Bugbears, but their Minds have not pierced into the Horror of the World which others, who are adrift upon it, know.”
“As the Great rise by degrees of Greatnesse to the Pitch of Glory, so the Miserable sink to the Depth of their Misery by a continued Series of Disasters. Yet it cannot be denied but most Men owe not only their Learning to their Plenty, but likewise their Vertue and their Honesty: for how many Thousands are there in the World, in great Reputation for their Sober and Just dealings with Mankind, who if they were put to their Shifts would soon lose their Reputations and turn Rogues and Scoundrels? And yet we punish Poverty as if it were Crime, and honour Wealth as if it were a Vertue. And so goes on the Circle of Things: Poverty begets Sin and Sin begets Punishment.”
“…it is a dreadfull thing to look down Praecipices.”
“…the true God is to be venerated in obscure and fearful Places, with Horror in their Approaches, and thus did our Ancestors worship the Daemon in the form of great Stones.”
“Truly Time is a vast Denful of Horrour, round about which a Serpent winds and in the winding bites itself by the Tail. Now, now is the Hour, every Hour, every part of an Hour, every Moment, which in its end does begin again and never ceases to end: a beginning continuing, always ending.”
“VANNBRUGGHE. (Spitting upon the floor) But the bounds of the Mind are yet unknown: we form our Judgments too much on what has been done without knowing what might be done. Originals must soar into the region of Liberty.
DYER. And then fall down, since they have Wings made only of Wax. Why prostrate your Reason to meer Nature? We live off the Past: it is in our Words and our Syllables. It is reverberant in our Streets and Courts, so that we can scarce walk across the Stones without being reminded of those who walked there before us; the Ages before our own are like an Eclipse which blots out the Clocks and Watches of our present Artificers and, in that Darkness, the Generations jostle one another. It is the dark of Time from which we come and to which we will return.
VANNBRUGGHE. (Aside) What is this stuff about Time? (To Dyer) This is well said, but this Age of ours is quite new. The World was never more active or youthful than it is now, and all this Imitation of the past is but the Death’s Head of Writing as it is of Architecture.”
“what think you of that, Nick, since you allwaies have your Head stuck in old Books? And I said nothing, for who can speak of the Mazes of the Serpent to those who are not lost in them?”
“A woman is a deep Ditch, said he, her House inclines to Death and her Paths unto the Devil”
“the Gulphe in which truth lies is bottomless and it will wash over whatever is thrown into it.”
“Well,’ said Hawksmoor. ‘It’s a theory and a theory can do no harm.”