Monday, February 2, 2009

All the welth of the Land bunged vp in snapchaunce bags

These days, when I get a minute to myself to think, I party like it's 1592. I read a reprint from a pamphlet published in 1592.

It's 1592, and the scrappy British pamphleteer Thomas Nashe has just published Pierce Penilesse, His Svpplication to the Divell, an eloquent howl at the unregulated federal bailout of the financial sector - that's the least transparent and productive and the most wealthy sector of our wornout economy, spoonfed money taxed from working stiffs like you and me.

Oh. I've messed it up. Those are our problems, not his. Except they sort of look the same. Don't they?

Nashe lashes out with savage anger that "these stal-fed cormorants to damnation, must bung vp all the welth of the Land in their snapchaunce bags, and poore Scholers and Souldiers wander in backe lanes, and the out-shiftes of the Citie, with neuer a rag to their backes ..."

All the wealth of the land bunged up in a few locked vaults, while students, artists, and vets are frozen out of opportunity and left to wander? Sounds like our reality, as surely as his.

Nashe also makes a point about trivial pursuits - say, celebrity watching, or Superbowl advertisements - and their role in distracting the people from their real concerns. His example is borrowed from antiquity.

"... there happened a great Fraie in Rome abouot a Player, insomuch as all the Cittie was in an vprore: wherevpon, the Emperour (after the broyle was somewhat ouer-blowne) calde the Player before him, and askt what was the reason that a man of his qualitie, durst presume to make such a brawle about nothing. Hee smilinglye replyde, It is good for thesee O Caesar, that the peoples heads are troubled with brawles and quarrels about us and our light matters: for otherwise they would looke into thee and thy matters."
I'm squarely on the side of those who caution that President Barack Obama is a politician, rather than a prophet or a saviour. However, he is a politician who, when taking the oath of office, said we must "put away childish things." He is a leader who is welcoming the scrutiny and effort of the poeple devoted to what is real, not what is imaginary or trivial.

I think Thomas Nashe would have liked him as much as I do. Now, let's just see what if anything the president can to to hold those spendthrift bankers accountable for what they are doing with our money!


Image of a British beggar from Nashe's day from a Tudor website.

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