The wittily rhyming couplet that titles this blog entry originated in England around the year 1695, a time when such flippant irreverence is not expected. This was an era of orthodox piety: The sovereigns (William and the recently desceased Mary) were of a stern Calvinistic disposition; neither Isaac Newton nor John Locke (two of England's greatest minds of this decade) questioned the authenticity of the Biblical narrative of Creation; Voltaire was but an infant; and in America, the Salem witch trials had just ended.
So when I recently encountered this couplet in a book that I was reading, naturally some questions occurred to me: Was it part of a larger composition? Who wrote it? And why?
Obviously some literary sleuthing would be required.
The Jingle and the Ballad
This adventure began when the couplet popped up in Roy Porter’s classic history The Making of Geology: Earth Science in Britain 1660–1815 (Cambridge University Press, 1977), pages 65 to 66:
And even then, quite radical pressures were creating stresses on the traditional cosmogony. Burnet did not merely find (as the popular jingle went) that ‘All the Books of Moses / Were nothing but supposes’, but allegorized the Fall, and seemingly declared that in the physical world God worked exclusively by second causes (Redwood, 1976: 110f.).
The Burnet here is not the Scottish historian and philosopher Gilbert Burnet (1643 – 1715) but the English theologian and cosmogonist Thomas Burnet (1635 – 1715). More on Thomas Burnet shortly.
“All the Books of Moses” refers to the Pentateuch — the first five books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. These were the books that were traditionally believed to have been written by Moses under divine guidance, and hence were once considered a valuable source for the early history of mankind.
Recently I’ve been working on Chapter 4 of my book-in-progress Computer of the Tides. Chapter 4 explores how the emergence of geology expanded the age of the earth from a modest period of “almost six thousand yeeres old” (as Rosalind put it in Shakespeare’s As You Like it in 1599) to millions and billions of years by the time of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Chapter 4 provides the necessary background for understanding the later controversy over the age of the earth initiated by William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) following the publication of Darwin’s book, and which led to Thomson’s research in the tides and the invention of the analog computer known as the Tide-Predicting Machine.
Since Chapter 4 of Computer of the Tides explores how people stopped believing in the literal account of Creation given in Genesis, the sentiment expressed in this “popular jingle” suggested that it might shed some light on this intellectual revolution.
The passage in Roy Porter’s book refers to another book I have, John Redwood’s delightfully titled Reason, Ridicule and Religion: The Age of Enlightenment in England, 1660–1750 (Harvard University Pres, 1976), which includes some additional verses. Redwood calls it a “ballad” (the term I will use from now on) and also identifies the ballad's source (page 119):
William King brings to us a popular ballad common at the time of Thomas Burnet’s work, which captures the mood in which his great theory of the earth was received:
That all the book of Moses
Were nothing but supposes …
That as for Father Adam
And Mrs Eve his Madam,
And what the devil spoke, Sir,
Twas nothing but a joke, Sir,
And well invented flam.
More on Burnet’s “great theory of the earth” shortly. A footnote in Redwood’s book indicates the source of the verses to be the "Dictionary of National Biography, vol. iii, p. 409.”
In private investigator parlance, jumping from source to source is called a "skiptrace," and in literary sleuthing, footnotes often provide the crucial skips.
The 63 Volumes of the DNB
The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is the massive 63-volume work published beginning in 1885 under the editorship of Leslie Stephen (better known these days as Virginia Woolf’s father) and concluding in 1900 under the editorship of Sidney Lee, with a few supplements thereafter. The most convenient online source of the DNB text is the Dictionary of National Biography page in Wikisource.
Alternatively, if you have the patience, you can access the actual scanned pages of the DNB through Google Books. I use Google Books a lot for researching publications of the 19th century and earlier. It's so indispensable for sleuthing jobs like this one that I almost feel bad complaining about its broken search engine, its extensive metafile errors, and its erratic OCR. Google Books knows nothing about the concept that a publication might be divided into separate bound books called “volumes,” so examining individual volumes of the DNB is greatly hampered. You'll need to use the Google Books Advanced Book Search to find them, keeping in mind that sometimes the title is recorded in the metafile as “Dictionary of National Biography” or something longer or just “DNB,” and sometimes the volume number is part of the title, but most often not.
Thomas Burnet’s entry is actually in Volume 7 of the DNB (not Volume 3 as John Redwood indicates) beginning on page 408, right column. The verses that Redwood quotes appear on page 409, right column:
A popular ballad (see W. King’s Works, 1776) ridiculed him along with South and Sherlock. Burnet is represented as saying
That all the books of Moses
Were nothing but supposes.
. . . . . .
That as for Father Adam
And Mrs. Eve, his Madame,
And what the devil spoke, Sir,
‘Twas nothing but a joke, Sir,
And well-invented flam.
More on South and Sherlock shortly.
The small-caps typography of "W. King" indicates another DNB entry in Volume 31. There are several William King's in the DNB, but the one referred to in Burnet's entry seems to be the William King (1663 – 1712), described as a “miscellaneous writer” beginning on page 161, left column. On page 163, left column is the observation that:
King seems to have been sincerely religious and moral in his life, though given to occasional conviviality. [Alexander] Pope told Lord Burlington in 1716, 'I remember Dr. King would write verses in a tavern three hours after he could not speak.'"
The word “conviviality” here is a euphemism for drunkenness. It seems apt to attribute the ballad to someone who wrote poetry in an extreme state of inebriation.
The entry also says “Many of King's writings were published anonymously, and some without date.” and (right column) “In 1776 the 'Original Works of William King, LL.D.,' in three volumes, were published, carefully edited by John Nichols." That's the book referenced in Burnet's DNB entry but the 1776 date bothered me. Roy Porter, John Redwood, and the DNB entry on Thomas Burnet all suggest that the ballad dated from the 1690’s so why is it referenced in a book published 80 years later?
Certainly earlier sources of the ballad could be located.
A Paper War on Trinitarianism
The complete ballad — which I promise is coming up soon — has eight stanzas. The first time I read the whole thing, it was pretty much incomprehensible because it alludes to three theologians of the 1690s who are not identified by name. The bulk of the ballad relates to a debate over belief in the Trinity. This was a controversy involving the non-trinitarian doctrine of Socianism summed up in the Wikipedia article Socinian controversy.
The best early publication of the ballad that I could find is in Posthumous Works of the Late Reverend Robert South, D.D. Containing Sermons on Several Subjects… (London: E. Curll, 1717). This is the source that is seemingly the most authoritative, and the one that provides the best background for understanding the ballad.
Robert South (1634–1716) is one of the main characters in this saga. He was a prebendary (a high-ranking clergyman) of Westminster, and thus a public figure. As the title of this Posthumous Works book indicates, the book is mostly a collection of sermons and other writings of Robert South, but it begins with a 144-page section entitled “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Robert South,” which you can read starting on page 1 if you're interested.
South is also included in the Dictionary of National Biography where you can read about him in Volume 53 starting on page 275, right column. The Wikipedia article Robert South is largely drawn from the DNB.
If you truly want to understand the complete ballad (coming soon), you’ll want to start reading the “Memoirs” section of the Posthumous Works of the late Reverend Robert South beginning at page 118. Here’s some background and a summary:
Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Toleration Act of 1689 allowed many Protestant sects the limited freedom to practice their religions, but not to hold public office or attend universities. The Toleration Act was just a baby step. Excluded were:
- Atheists, because even John Locke in his Letter Concerning Toleration observed that atheists couldn’t be trusted to take oaths;
- Roman Catholics, because they were perceived as having recently attempted to subject England to tyranny under James II; and
The Trinity was one of the core beliefs of Roman Catholicism that had been adopted by the Church of England. It was considered central to its theology. Of the 39 Articles established during the reign of Elizabeth that defined Anglican doctrine, the Trinity is number 1. (Of course, excluding non-trinitarians implicitly also excludes non-Christians such as Jews and Muslims.)
As everyone knows, toleration is a slippery slope, and eventually everyone wants in. Various flavors of non-trinitarian belief were quite common in this era, particularly among intellectuals who studiously searched scripture for solid support of the Trinity and simply could not find it. Isaac Newton was a follower of one non-trinitarian doctrine called Arianism (although few people knew it at the time) and John Locke was probably a Socinian.
The author of the Robert South “Memoirs” sums up this situation in glorious late 17th century prose (page 118) that leaves no doubt where he stands:
The Pestilent Sect of the Socinians by the Countenance of the Act of Toleration, and the loose Sentiments of some of our own Divines, had gotten considerable Ground in England since the Revolution, and being favour’d by the Licentiousness of the Press, they publish’d many of their Pamphlets, enough to provoke any Christian Government.
Enter the second of the three characters in the ballad:
William Sherlock (1641 – 1707) was in 1691 the dean of St. Paul’s. You can read about his life in the DNB Volume 52, page 95 or Wikipedia.
Both South and Sherlock were rather combative clergyman and did not avoid public controversies. In an attempt to counter Socinian trends, William Sherlock wrote a 272-page book defending the Trinity: A Vindication of the Doctrine of the Holy and Ever Blessed Trinity, and the Incarnation of the Son of God… (London: W. Rogers, 1690), which you can read on Google Books. I have not read it, but the perception at the time was that Sherlock went way too far, and ended up separating the three persons of the Trinity into three separate consciousnesses, hence identifying three Gods where there should be just one. This is a heresy known as “tritheism.”
In response, Robert South anonymously published a 379-page book beginning with a word meaning “criticism”: Animadversions Upon Dr. Sherlock’s Book Entituled A Vindication of the Holy and Ever-Blessed Trinity, &c. (London: Randal Taylor, 1693). Sherlock responded anonymously with the 112-page A Defence of Dr. Sherlock’s Notion of a Trinity in Answer to the Animadversions Upon His Vindication… (London: W. Rogers, 1694). (This is not available on Google Books but can be accessed through the New York Public Library if you have a valid library card.) South responded with a 316-page anonymous book Tritheism Charged Upon Dr. Sherlock’s New Notion of the Trinity… (London: John Whitlock, 1695).
The spectacle of two theologians (and others) engaged in a “paper war” while attempting to wrestle the finer points of the Trinity into a comprehensible balance between one God and three Gods was, of course, greatly amusing to atheists, deists, and non-trinitarians of all stripes, and so (according to the author of South’s “Memoirs”, page 128)
the KING interposed his Royal Authority, by Directions to the Archbishops, and Bishops, that no Preacher whatsoever in his Sermon or Lecture, should presume to deliver any other Doctrine concerning the Blessed Trinity, than what was contained in the Holy Scriptures, and was agreeable to the Three Creeds, and the 39 Articles of Religion, which put an End to the Controversie …
The three creeds are the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Apostles' Creed.
The ballad is coming up soon — I promise — but another player must be introduced.
Thomas Burnet's Controversial Books
Thomas Burnet (1635–1715) is the third personage in the ballad. As master of the Charterhouse School during the reign of James II, Burnet was able to earn valuable future political points by opposing the appointment of a Catholic to the school. After the Glorious Revolution, Burnet was rewarded by being made chaplain and Clerk of the Closet to William III. The Clerk of the Closet handles much of the church-related administration of the sovereign. The position still exists because the British monarch is still the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Within the history of cosmogony and geology, Burnet is best known as the author of the book Telluris Theoria Sacra, first published in 1681, with an English translation Sacred Theory of the Earth in 1684. These books exist on Google Books in multiple editions. Burnet was inspired by Descartes to hypothesize natural processes that might have resulted in the changes to the Earth since Creation that are described in the Bible, particularly the Noachian Deluge. Like Descartes’ natural philosophy, Burnet’s book ostensibly resembles science because it describes naturalistic mechanisms of the world, but also like Descartes, it’s not at all based on empirical observations or experimentation.
Burnet's Sacred Theory of the Earth has been well described in the secondary literature: Chapter 2 of Stephen Jay Gould’s Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (Harvard University Press, 1987) is probably the standard introduction, but many other books have more than a passing mention, including Chapter 2 Section 1 of Basil Wiley's The Eighteenth Century Background: Studies on the Idea of Nature in the Thought of the Period (Columbia University Press, 1940), who also translated an edition of Sacred Theory of the Earth in 1965; Chapters 5 and 6 in Marjorie Hope Nicholson's Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (Cornel University Press, 1959; University of Washington Press, 1997); Francis C. Haber in The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin (Johns Hopkins Press, 1959); Margaret C. Jacob’s indispensable book The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689 – 1720 (Harvester Press, 1976); Chapter 5 of Claude C. Albritton's The Abyss of Time: Changing Conceptions of the Earth's Antiquity After the Sixteenth Century (Freeman, Cooper and Company, 1980; Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1986; Dover Publications, 2002); Keith Thomson in Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature (Yale University Press, 2005); and undoubtedly others I don't know about.
But it was another book by Thomas Burnet that got him into trouble and earned him a place in the ballad — a scorching deconstruction of the tale of Adam and Eve and the Garden and the Serpent in Archæologiæ Philosophicæ: Sive Doctrina Antiqua de Rerum Originibus (London, 1692). Apparently there was an English translation soon afterwards, but the best I’ve been able to find is Archæologiæ Philosophicæ: or, the Ancient Doctrine Concerning the Originals of Things (London: J. Fisher, 1736), and I suspect this is a not complete translation. The title page is confusing as to what is actually contained in the volume, but for a fun trip in edgy late-17th century heterodox theology, try reading the 90 pages beginning with page 1.
Burnet attempts to demonstrate that the descriptions in Genesis are not intended for modern natural philosophers who know about the strides made by Copernicus and Galileo and Newton. They were instead intended for the common people — the “vulgar” in the language of the times. Just as “betwixt the Learned and the Vulgar there are two different Systems of the World, whereof one supposes the Sun to be the centre, and the other the Earth,” (page 28) so it is with the account in Genesis. Moses deviated from the “Physical Truth … by adapting his History of the Creation to the Capacity and Use of the common people.” (page 41)
Truth is a sacred Thing; but there are various Degrees and Orders of sacred Things, among which some are more or less inviolable. The Subject here is Physical Truth, not that which is Moral. Now there is nothing more frequent in the sacred Writings, than neglecting Physical Truth, to exhibit the Nature of Things according to the Opinion, Affection, and Judgement of the Populace. Thus the holy Scripture represents the Earth as smooth and quadrangular; and the Heaven as solid and stretched out like a Tabernacle: It speaks of the Moon as one of the greatest among the Stars, and mentions the Sun’s daily Course from the East to the West; and that the Ocean is higher than the Shoars. Thus for the corporeal World. Further, it represents the Angels as having Tongues and Wings; it speaks of bloody Souls, and as if they slept after Death. Lastly, it mentions the Ears, Eyes, Hands, and Fingers of God himself, the most exalted and perfect Being. And besides all the Members of the Body, it relates the local Motions, Affections, and Passions of the infinite Deity. Will you say these are true, or adapted to vulgar Capacities? (pages 51 to 52)
The problem with Burnet's book is not so much this idea, but the glee that Burnet takes in demolishing passages of Genesis, even fabricating a dialogue between Eve and the Serpent (pages 5 to 6), and cumulatively putting the Creation into such doubt as to question the validity of the entire account as well as the concept of Original Sin.
“An Account of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Thomas Burnet, LL.D.” included with the 7th edition of The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1759) says that Burnet had a bright and shining future when he became Clerk of the Closet to King William in 1689 following the Glorious Revolution:
Dr. Burnet was then looked upon as in the Way to a great Preferment, and he had a fine Prospect before him when he published, in the Year 1692, his Archæologiæ Philosophicæ, sive Doctrina antiqua de Rerum Originibus, in Quarto, with a Dedication to King William, whose Character he there draws with great Strength of Genius and Art, in a most beautiful Stile peculiar to himself. But neither the Patron, nor the Learning most apparent in this Book, could protect the Author from the great Clamours raised against him for allegorizing in it the Scripture Account of the Fall of our first Parents, which it must be confessed, is done with too great an Air of Ridicule…” (pages xxiii to xxiv)
“Air of Ridicule” indeed. Despite an atonement, Burnet had to retire from his post of Clerk of the Closet in 1695. For the next 20 years until his death, Burnet was “disentangled and disencumbered from the general Business and Pursuits of Life" and "spent his Time in a single State to a good old Age.” (page xxviii) He was about 80 when he died in 1715.
And Finally the Ballad
When last we left the “Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Robert South,” (page 128) William III had just
… put an End to the Controversie, tho’ not till after both the Disputants, (with Mr. Burnet Master of the Charter-House, who about the same Time published his Archeologia, whereby he impugned and weaken’d as much as in him lay the Divine Truths of the Old Testament) had receiv’d a Reprimand from a Witty Ballad, called, The Battle Royal; to the Tune of a Soldier and a Sailor.
And then, without further ado, appears the ballad. I’ve attempted to reproduce the typography by retaining the author’s use of capitals, italics, punctuations, and abbreviations (specifically, &c. for etc.), but not the initial drop-capital nor the long s’s (which look like f’s). Recall that the “Dean” is William Sherlock (dean of St. Paul’s), the “Prebendary” is Robert South (prebendary of Westminster), and the “Master of the Charter” is Thomas Burnet (Master of the Charterhouse School). The word “vagary” means an unexpected changed in a situation. (Sherlock and South were once on much better terms.) To “catch a Tartar” is to find oneself outwitted by something that one is pursuing. (If you try to catch a Tartar, you might find that he has caught you.)
The ballad begins on page 129:
A Dean and Prebendary
Had once a new Vagary
And were at doubtful strife, Sir,
Who led the better life, Sir,
And was the better Man,
And was the better Man.
The Dean he said that truly,
Since Bluff was so unruly,
He’d prove it to his Face, Sir,
That he had the most Grace, Sir,
And so the Fight began, &c.
When Preb reply’d like Thunder,
And roar’d out ‘twas no Wonder,
Since Gods the Dean had Three, Sir,
And more by Two than he, Sir,
For he had got but One, &c.
Now whilst these Two were raging,
And in Disputes engaging,
The Master of the Charter,
Said both had caught a Tartar,
For Gods, Sir, there were none, &c.
That all the Books of Moses,
Were nothing but Supposes,
That he deserv’d Rebuke, Sir,
Who wrote the Pentateuch, Sir,
‘Twas nothing but a Sham, &c.
That as for Father Adam,
With Mrs. Eve his Madam,
And what the Serpent spoke, Sir,
‘Twas nothing but a Joke, Sir,
And well-invented Flam, &c.
Thus in this Battle-Royal,
As none would take Denial,
The Dame for which they strove, Sir,
Could neither of them Love, Sir,
Since all had giv’n Offence, &c.
She therefore slyly waiting,
Left all Three Fools a Prating,
And being in a Fright, Sir,
Religion took her Flight, Sir,
And ne’er was heard of since,
And ne’er was heard of since.
The author of the memoir continues (pages 130 to 131):
Whether this Ballad is worded with that Decency that the Subject of the Dispute, or the very Eminent and Learned Person concern’d in it, required, it is not in my Sphere to decide; but the Reception it met with in being Translated into several Languages, particularly Latin, by a Curious Hand, at the University of Cambridge, and the Presents made to the Author by the Nobility and Gentry, made it evident, that their Sentiments were against having the Mysteries of our Holy Religion discuss’d and canvas’d after so ludicrous a manner.
Although the ballad seems to date from 1695 or shortly thereafter, I have not been able to find any occurrence of it in print at that time. It's possible that the ballad was distributed informally, or that all copies of the original publication have disappeared, or that something exists that is not accessible through electronic searches, or that my skills in literary sleuthing are deficient.
However, the 1717 publication of the Posthumous Works of the late Reverend Robert South is definitely not the first appearance of the ballad in print. Have at You Blind Harpers: Three Ballads Concerning the Times is only eight pages in length and one is blank. The publication data is “LONDON Printed: And Sold by J. Baker, at the Sign of the Negro in Pater-Noster-Row, and by all her Majesty’s Running-Stationers. Price one Penny.” There’s no date but Google Books says 1710 and WorldCat says "1709?".
In this book the ballad is titled (I have not corrected the spelling) “A Cure for religious Disputes: OR, The Battel Royal,” and a few margin notes identify the participants as “Dr. Sherlock and Dr. South” and “Dr. Burnet of the Charter-house, in a Book of his call’d Archiologia, burn’d at Oxford,” which is an interesting piece of information and one I wish I knew more about. The penultimate line contains the margin note “Disputandi prurigo est scabies Ecclesia. Sir. H. W.” which is a paraphrase of a quote by Sir Henry Wotton, c. 1639, “The itch of disputation is the scab of the Church.”
I've found one more reference to the ballad earlier than South’s Posthumous Works. In 1699, William Garth published a satirical poem. Here’s the 5th edition, which is the earliest I can find: The Dispensary: A Poem. In Six Canto’s. (London: John Nutt,, 1703). On page 62 is the couplet
Have I made S ____ and S _____ disagree,
And puzzle Truth with learn’d Obscurity?
As in many lines of this poem, Garth uses initials and underlines to perhaps protect himself from libel suits. Fortunately, there was published A Compleat Key to the Seventh Edition of the Dispensary (London: J. Roberts, 1714) which has an explanation on page 21:
Dr. South, Prebendary of Westminster, and Dr. Sherlock, late Dean of Paul’s and Master of the Temple, who wrote against one another about the Trinity; and so managed the Controversy, that the Publick were of Opinion, That the first proved there is but one God and the other, That there are Three. The Dispute was ridiculed in a Ballad, to the Tune of, A Soldier and a Sailor, &c. and which begins thus,
A Dean and a Prebendary,
Had once a new Vagary, &c.
That’s all that’s included
The Inevitable Anthologizations
As the 18th century progressed, the ballad began to appear in various collections of ballads and songs:
Wit and Mirth: or Pills to Purge Melancholy; Being a Collection of the best Merry Ballads and Songs, Old and New…, Volume 6 (London: W. Pearson, 1720). “The Battle-Royal” begins on page 213 and includes music to sing the lyrics by.
The Hive: A Collection of the Most Celebrated Songs in Three Volumes, Vol. III, 3rd edition (London: J. Walthoe, 1729). “The Battle-Royal. Written in 1693. To the Tune of a Solider and a Sailor” begins on page 108 but the date can’t be right. I suspect that date was plucked from the "Memoirs" of Robert South where it indicates the date of South’s first salvo against Sherlock.
The Vocal Miscellany. A Collection of above Four Hundred Celebrated Songs, volume 2, 2nd edition (London: A. Bettesworth and C. Hatch, 1738), where it appears on page 179 with the title “The Dean and a Prebendary.”
The Syren, Containing a Collection of 432 of the Most Celebrated English Songs, 3rd edition (London: A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch, 1739), page 83 where it's oddly titled "A Soldier and a Sailor."
Philomel. Being a Small Collection of Only the Best English Songs (London, M. Cooper, 1744), page 91 with no title.
The Aviary: or, Magazine of British Melody. Consisting of a Collection of One Thousand Three Hundred and Forty Four Songs… (London, J. Mechell, 1745), page 13 under the title "A Soldier and a Sailor."
This is my no means an exhaustive list. None of these collections of ballads and songs provide any context for the ballad or indicate who the characters are. Could readers in the 18th century really be singing about the Dean and Prebendary and Master of the Charterhouse without having a clue who they were? Did they lose their identifies and become generic actors in vague and ancient theological debates?
Biographical Dictionaries Simply Can't Resist
Prior to the Dictionary of National Biography, other biographical dictionaries had been published in England. The ballad can be found in at least two of these. It doesn't really add anything to the biographies, but the editors apparently simply couldn't resist including it.
A New and General Biographical Dictionary; Containing an Historical and Critical Account of the Lives and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons In Every Nation; Particularly the British and Irish; From the Earliest Accounts of Time to the Present Period…, Vol. X (London: T. Osborne, etc, 1762). On page 442 is the entire ballad in a biography of Robert South. (Sherlock's biography appears on page 359 and Thomas Burnet is in Volume II, page 436.)
A Biographical History of England, from the Revolution to the End of George I’s Reign, Vol. I (London: W. Richardson, 1806). This is a "continuation" by the Rev. Mark Noble of an earlier biographical dictionary published in 1769 by Rev. James Granger entitled Biographical History of England from Egbert the Great to the Revolution. The ballad appears in a footnote on page 105 in the biographical sketch of Thomas Burnet where it is "too humourous for omission." (A short biography of William Sherlock appears on pages 89 to 91, and that of Robert South on pages 99 to 101.)
You'll soon encounter the names of Rev. Mark Noble and Rev. James Granger in a trial for libel that occurred in London in 1817. Those trial transcripts will repeat an error in this edition of the ballad: In the third line are the words "doleful strife" rather than "doubtful strife."
A book by Joshua Toulmin, D.D., An Historical View of The State of the Protestant Dissenters in England, And of the Progress of Free Enquiry and Religious Liberty, From the Revolution to the Accession of Queen Anne (London: Richard Cruttwell, 1814) includes the ballad in a footnote on page 186.
The Trials of William Hone
On Thursday, December 17, 1817, and again the next day, the ballad was recited in a London courtroom during libel trials of writer, publisher, and bookseller William Hone.
The story of William Hone is well told in Ben Wilson's marvelous book The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and the Fight for the Free Press (London: Faber and Faber, 2005). Hone was a scruffy self-taught lover of books. He read them, he bought and sold them, he wrote them, and he published them. In the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars and thereafter, Hone courageously challenged the increasingly repressive measures of the English government by publishing periodicals, pamphlets, and books that promoted "dangerous" reforms (such as universal suffrage) and mocked Tory members of Parliament and the Prince Regent (later, King George IV).
In February 1817, Hone wrote and published three political attacks in the form of parodies of the Catechism, the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. For example, Hone's parody of the Ten Commandments included (page 201 of Ben Wilson's book):
5. Honour the Regent and the helmets of the Life Guards, that thy stay long in the Place, which the Lord thy Minister giveth thee.
6. Thou shalt not call starving to death murder.
7. Thou shalt not call Royal gallivanting adultery.
8. Thou shalt not say that to rob the Public is to steal.
The Apostle's Creed was parodied like this:
I believe in George, the Regent Almighty, Maker of new Streets, and Knight of the Bath; and in the present Ministry, his only choice, who were conceived of Toryism, brought forth of Wm. Pitt, suffered loss of place under Charles James Fox; were execrated, dead, and buried. In a few months they rose again from their Minority; they re-ascended the Treasury Benches, and sit at the right hand of a little man in a large wig; from whence they laugh at the petitions of people who pray for Reform, and that the sweat of their brow may procure them bread.
Hone was arrested and tried for libel against the Christian religion — three separate trials on consecutive days for each of the three publications. As Ben Wilson tells the exciting story (Chapter 9), Hone was first able to challenge the manner in which the jury was selected, and then by citing various parodies over the centuries, he demonstrated that he was not parodying the Christian religion, but instead using these well-known forms of prose to mock politicians. For three consecutive days, in front of three separate juries, Hone argued his case in eight-hour stretches, demonstrating his encyclopedic knowledge of parodic literature, and was exonerated in all three trials.
Partial transcripts of the trials can be found In Hone's publication, The Three Trials of William Hone (London: William Hone, 1818). (The source of the quote that begins "I believe in George" is page 5 of this book.) The ballad was introduced into evidence in the first trial, page 23:
He [Hone] next read from the Rev. Mark Noble's continuation of Granger's Biographical History of England, the following verses written respecting Dr. Burnet, the author of the Theory of the Earth; —:
After which is the entire ballad.
In the second trial, Hone introduced the ballad again (second trial, page 25):
Mr. Hone said, the next article he should mention was contained in the Reverend Mark Noble's Continuation of the Rev. Mr. Granger's Biographical History of England, which though it was not a parody on Scripture, shewed that it was never apprehended by the most pious men, that a casual association of ludicrous images with matters of the Christian religion tended to weaken the respect due to that faith. Mr. Noble, in his work, said, that there was a song respecting Dr. Burnett, the author of The Theory of the Earth, and Master of the Charter-House, beginning: —
A dean a prebendary
Had once a new vagary;
And were at doleful strife, Sir,
Who led the better life,
And was the better man,
And was the better man.
Notice the error of "doleful" rather than "doubtful," which is how the line appears in the Biographical History of England.
Before Hone could finish reading the ballad, the Chief Justice, Lord Ellenborough, had heard enough. “That is such mischievous matter that I shall prohibit its being read. No person under pretence of explaining one libel, shall offend the ears of public decency by the recital of such profanations. I took down two lines — That all the books of Moses Were nothing but supposes. And I prohibit the remainder.”
Hone replied that the last few lines “have a perfectly moral tendency.”
“I will not hear them," Lord Ellenborough said. “It would deserve severe punishment if it were a modern publication.”
Hone contended “My Lord, it has been published over and over again of late years, and no notice taken of it,” which Hone knew even without access to Google Books.
“I am sorry for it: mischievous people are to be found at all times,” replied Ellenborough
Hone again referred to the source he used for the ballad: “The Rev. Mark Noble, the author, is a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England, and I venture to say, has no sense of the impropriety; and if a man so well instructed could forget himself, and publish what was of a mischievous tendency, no man will charge that he did it with a view to bring religion in to contempt.”
Ellenborough persisted: “Under pretence of defending yourself for one crime, you are not to commit another,” but finally allowed Hone to read the last two stanzas.
After Hone won the three trials, Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough resigned in disgrace and died a year later.
Is William King the Ballad's Author?
As you'll recall, the Dictionary of National Biography entry for Thomas Burnet says “A popular ballad (see W. King’s Works, 1776) ridiculed him along with South and Sherlock.” (page 409, right column), but that's just a citation of the source of the ballad. Does it mean that William King composed the ballad?
Several historians seem to have made that assumption. John Redwood in Reason, Ridicule and Religion: The Age of Englightenment in England, 1660 – 1750 (Harvard University Press, 1976) says ambiguously "William King brings to us a popular ballad common at the time of Thomas Burnet's work..." (page 119).
Paolo Rossi in The Dark Abyss of Time: The History of the Earth and the History of Nations from Hooke to Vico, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (University of Chicago Press, 1984; original Italian edition published 1979) quotes seven lines of the ballad (page 73) and credits it to “King 1776, 1:221-22” but the book is not included in the book's bibliography.
Marjorie Hope Nicholson in Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (Cornel University Press, 1959; University of Washington Press, 1997) quotes seven lines (pages 188 – 189) and attributes it to “William King, Original Works (London, 1776), I, 221-222.”
Martin Gorst in Measuring Eternity: The Search for the Beginning of Time (Broadway Books, 2001) writes that Burnet “was even mocked in verse. In a ballad called Battle Royal, the satirist William King cast Burnet as an atheist and made him declare” followed by the five lines of the fifth verse. The Notes and Sources for that chapter lists Marjorie Hope Nicholson’s book and adds “The verse satirizing Burnet can be found in William King, The Original Works of William King, 3 vols., London, 1776, vol 1, p. ix.” (page 298)
Claude C. Albritton in The Abyss of Time: Changing Conceptions of the Earth’s Antiquity (Freeman, Cooper and Company, 1980; Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1986; Dover Publications, 2002) provides the most extensive (and, frankly, imaginative) background (pages 66 – 67):
William King, a younger contempory of Burnet, was one of those merry people who could see the funny side of controversies involving prominent persons. King's ballad "The Battle Royal," is a fanciful acccount of a debate between a trinitarian, a unitarian, and an atheist over which led the best life and had the most grace. Burnet, who is cast as the atheist, is made to proclaim:
That all the books of MosesAccording to King's editor, "Battle Royal" became popular and was translated into Latin and several other languages. Many of the nobility and gentry sent presents to the author, making it evident that their sentiments were against having "the mysteries of our Holy Religion discussed and canvassed after so ludicrous a manner."
Were nothing but supposes
That he deserv'd rebuke, Sir,
Who wrote the Pentateuch, Sir,
. 'Twas nothing but a sham.
That as for father Adam,
With Mrs. Eve his madam,
And what the serpent spoke, Sir,
'Twas nothing but a Joke, Sir,
. And well-invented flam.
The source of the ballad is again The Original Works of William King of 1776.
Is it time to look at this 1776 source, and accept its authority for King's authorship even though it was published 80 years after the ballad's composition?
Not quite yet.
William King's Satirical Letter
William King (1663 – 1712) was educated at Oxford, went into the law, and was involved in some theological disputes. He is best known for his poem The Art of Love, an imitation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, and The Art of Cookery, an imitation of Horace’s Art of Poetry, so certainly he has the poetic qualifications for writing the ballad.
There is no question that King was publicly involved in the trinitarian debate. Around 1693 or 1694, King published a short pamphlet with the long title An Answer to a book, which will be published next week, entitled A letter to the Reverend Dr. South, upon occasion of a late book entitled, Animadversions upon Dr. Sherlock’s Book in Vindication of the Trinity. : Being a letter to the author..
This is obviously a joke, and like Onion articles, most of the joke is in the headline. The title implies that the book and pamphlet war between South and Sherlock will undoubtedly result in yet another book, so King is anticipating this event and offering a preemptive strike prior to this book's inevitable publication.
According to WorldCat, the only known copy of this pamphlet is in Oxford, as indicated by this catalog entry. This entry is partially incorrect: It indicates that the author is "William King, 1650 – 1729," which is not the poet William King but an Anglican Archbishop of Dublin. If I’m reading this catalog entry correctly, the pamphlet is only three pages in length, plus a blank page.
The letter was reprinted in William King’s Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (London: B. Lintott, 1709), published during King's lifetime. This book is not in Google Books but is available through the New York Public Library and Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online. On page 397 is the full title “An Answer to a Book...” followed by the letter, which ends on page 400. The ballad is not in this book.
The ballad is included in a much later collection of William King’s writings, The Original Works of William King, LL.D., Volume I (London: N. Conant, 1776), which is the source cited by the Dictionary of National Biography and everyone else.
Finding stuff in this book is not easy, but it begins with a section entitled “Memoirs of Dr. King” (page ix) with footnotes referring the reader to other pages of the book. On page xi, after discussing a publication of 1693, the “Memoirs of Dr. King” continues:
Either in this or early in the following year, appeared a very extraordinary morçeau [morsel], under the title “An Answer to a Book, which will be published next week, intituled, A Letter to the Reverend Dr. South, upon occasion of a late Book, intituled Animadversions on Dr. Sherlock’s Book, intituled, A Vindication of the Holy and Ever-blessed Trinity. Being a Letter to the Author.” What effect this had in Favour of Dr. South, may be seen in Dr. King’s own words.
And a footnote directs the reader to “Vol. I, p. 219.”
Page 219 is simply titled “Letter to the Author of a Book.” The letter occupies two pages followed by (on page 221 to 222) all eight stanzas of “The Battle Royal: A Ballad” with footnotes that identify the participants, including “Dr. T. Burnet had about this time ridiculed, in his ‘Archæologiæ Philosophicæ,’ the literal account of the Creation of Man, as it stands in the beginning of Genesis; and this, being then thought very heterodox and prophane, as indeed it generally is now, exposed him to the Poet’s lash.”
A footnote on the final verse paraphrases from the definitive presentation of the ballad in the “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Robert South” in Posthumous Works of the Late Reverend Robert South, D.D.:
Whether this ballad is worded with that decency that the subject of the dispute, or the very learned and eminent persons concerned in it deserve, we shall not determine. But the reception it met with, being translated into several languages, particularly Latin by a curious hand at Cambridge, and the presents sent to the author by the nobility and gentry, made it evident that their sentiments were against having the mysteries of our Holy Religion discussed and canvassed after so ludicrous a manner.
This seems to indicate that the editor of the Original Works of William King knows that the author of the “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Robert South” was quoting something that he knew to have been written by William King.
Leaf back a few pages in the Original Works of William King and on page 209 we find a title page for “Some Remarks on [Jonathan Swift's] The Tale of the Tub. First printed in 1704 “To which is now annexed, An Answer to a Book, which will be published next week….” And so forth. A note is included:
The “Answer to a Book to be published next Week” had an odd effect; for it was answered about a fortnight after, and about four of the impressions of the Book itself, with the Answer adjoined, were sold; and the remainder lie still by the wall, if not used as waste paper.
Dr. King’s Preface to his Miscellanies.
Additional discussion appears on page 210:
Who the Gentleman of the Long Robe was, that entered into the Trinitarian controversy as a second to Dr. Sherlock
(i.e., the person who answered King’s letter)
appears not at this distance; nor the exact time in which Dr. King’s little Essay was written. Dr. South’s “Animadversions” were published in 1693; and Dr. Sherlock defended himself in 1694. South again replied; and great men espoused the cause of each. The victory was finally adjudged to Dr. South; but not till both the disputants, together with Dr. Thomas Burnet, Master of the Charterhouse, had been ridiculed in the smart Ballad which, as a curiosity, we have printed in p. 211….
The page with the ballad is actually 221, but the implication is clear: William King is not the author of the “smart Ballad.” It has been included with King’s satirical letter merely “as a curiosity.” Once again, someone has come across the ballad and simply couldn't resist reprinting it. (I know the feeling.)
But the DNA results are in and we can confidently state: William King — You are not the father of this ballad.
Another Candidate Emerges
Interestingly, if we go back to the Dictionary of National Biography, the citation of William King in the entry on Thomas Burnet, Volume 7, page 409, right column is contradicted by two other biographies:
The DNB entry on Robert South in Volume 53, page 276, right column, concludes its brief discussion of the trinitarian debate with “Public judgment on the controversy was not inaptly expressed in William Pittis's ballad, 'That all the Books of Moses / Were nothing but Supposes”
The DNB entry on William Sherlock in Volume 52, page 96, left column refers to “a jeu d’esprit, ‘The Battle Royal’ (1694?), ascribed to William Pittis [see under Pittis, Thomas], was translated into Latin at Cambridge.”
William Pittis (1674 – 1724) doesn’t even get his own entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. He’s listed under his father, Thomas Pittis, where he is cited for a tendency to get in trouble for writing certain pamphlets — the mention of a pillory is certainly a hopeful sign — but is also the author of books about poetry, proceedings of Parliament, and a biography of John Radcliffe.
In the New York Public Library, William Pittis is also listed as the anonymous author of the book Memoirs of the Life of the Late Reverend Dr. South (London: E. Curll, 1721), which is not in Google Books but is available through the New York Public Library. This is not only the same publisher of the 1717 Posthumous Works of the late Reverend Robert South, D.D., but it contains the same 144-page “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Robert South,” with the same pagination and including the complete ballad.
If William Pittis is truly the author of these "Memoirs" of South, is it possible that William Pittis included his own ballad in these memoirs? When he calls it a "Witty Ballad" and refers to the "Reception it met with" and the "Presents made to the Author by the Nobility and Gentry," does this or does this not sound like someone who is tooting his own horn?
William Pittis has not been entirely ignored in the secondary literature. The Antitrinitarian Biography: or, Sketches of the Lives and Writings of Distinguished Antitrinitarians … , Volume 1 (London: E.T. Whitfield, 1850) by Robert Wallace ("Member of the Historico-Theological Society of Leipzig") begins with a nearly 400-page “Historical Introduction of Unitarian thought from the Reformation.” Over half of it is devoted to the reign of William III following the Glorious Revolution, when (as we learned previously) anti-trinitarian thought became most prevalent.
The battle between Sherlock and South receives a lengthy discussion in this book. On page 350, here's how the author concludes the discussion:
During the heat of the battle, Dr. Thomas Burnet, Master of the Charter-House, published his “Archæologia Philosophica,” in which he impugned the divine authority of the Old Testament. This work gave great offence to the orthodox clergy, and led to the author's removal from the office of Clerk of the Royal Closet, to which he had been appointed through the interest of Archbiship Tillotson. This incident, together with the dispute between Dean Sherlock and Prebendary South, furnished materials for the following humorous ballad, composed at the time by one Mr. Pittis, and entitled,
THE BATTLE ROYAL.
(To the Tune of “A Soldier and a Sailor.”)
After which appears the entire ballad, followed by:
The popularly of this jeu d'esprit was very great. Besides beging translated into several modern languages, it was honoured with a poetical version into Latin by one of the wits of Cambridge, and its author received presents from several of the nobility and gentry. Its chief claim to attention was founded in the ludicrous associations which it awakened, at the expense of certain learned and grave Divines. This was its object, and in the attainment of that object, it must be confessed, the author was eminently successful.
The ballad is also quoted in Earnest Campbell Mossner's Bishop Butler and the Age of Reason: A Study in the History of Thought (New York: Macmillan, 1936). (Mossner later wrote what is considered to be the standard biography of David Hume.) A footnote (page 58) contains the interesting citation:
“The Battle Royal: a Ballad,” by William Pittis, reprinted in The Original Works of William King (1776), I, 221-22.
This seems to contradict the notion of Original Works in the book's title! The entry for William Pittis in the bibliography (page 253) is similar.
An Article in The Nation
For the clues that led me to a proper understanding of the ballad's strange inclusion in The Original Works of Willaim King and to the likely attribution of the ballad's authorship of William Pittis, I am indebted to a column in America's oldest continuously published weekly magaine, The Nation. In The Nation, Volume 98, which covers the first half of the year 1914 (on the eve of the Great War), is a “News for Bibliophiles” column entitled “William Pittis: The Difficulties of a Pamphleteer and Biographer” in two parts, first in the No. 2554 11 June 1914 issue (page 692) and then in the No. 2555 18 June 1914 issue (page 722).
The author, William Peterfield Trent, came across Pittis in his researches on Daniel Defoe. On page 723, column 1, Trent attributes biographies of several people to William Pittis, including that of Robert South, and indicates that the author of the entry on South in the Dictionary of National Biography
was, as the children say in their game, “burning,” when he referred to William Pittis’s ballad, “The Battle Royal.” These verses, which dealt with the Socinian controvery between Dr. South and Dr. William Sherlock, had also satirised Dr. Thomas Burnet, Master of the Charterhouse, and they have been quoted in part, without attribution to Pittis, in Leslie Stephen’s article on Dr. Burnet in the great Dictionary. Stephen quoted from the copy printed in Nichol’s edition of “The original Works of William King, LL.D., Advocate of Doctors Commons” (I, 221-222), but, if one may judge from the note on p. 210, the name of the author of the ballad was unknown to King’s editor in 1776. The insertion, however, of the entire poem in those “Memoirs” of South, which Pittis claims to have written (pp. 128-129), and the comments there made upon it, suggest the suspicion that the author of the ballad was also the author of the “Memoirs,” especially as the approximate date of the satiric verses, 1695, corresponds with the period when Pittis was still moving in church and university circles.
Trent is not entirely convinced of the attribution of the verses to Pittis, but thinks it's likely: “If there is one thing Pittis was more likely to do than another thing, it was to quote himself.”
The Pittis Family Genealogy
A few decades after William Peterfield Trent in The Nation struggled with attributing the authorship of the ballad to William Pittis, a woman named Margaret Birney Pittis published a book entitled Pittis Genealogy: The Pittis Family in England and America, Four Hundred and Sixty-Four Years, Sixteen Generations, 1480 to 1944 (Cleveland, Ohio: self-published, 1945). Pages 56 to 59 are devoted to William Pittis, where he is described as a "pamphleteer." The DNB entry on Pittis provides most of the biographical specifics, but then a novel is mentioned entitled The Castle Builders.
The full title is The Castle-Builders; Or, The History of William Stephens, of the Isle of Wright, Esq; Lately Deceased. A Political Novel (London: self-published, 1759). Google Books (and the New York Public Library) give the author as Thomas Stephens. That this is called a "novel" seems quite strange for it is evidently a description of actual people, including the recently deceased person mentioned in the title, William Stephens (1672 – 1753), who was the son of another William Stephens, whose sister was Elizabeth Stephens, who married Thomas Pittis, and gave birth to William Pittis (1674 – 1724), who is the candidate for the authorship of the ballad. Thus, William Stephens and William Pittis were first cousins, and about the same age.
On page 20 we find that for his education William Stephens
was sent to King's College in Cambridge; not from any Dislike to Oxford, but that he might not be too near William, the Son of Dr. Pittis, his Cousin and School-fellow, who was of New College, and of more Wit and Learning, than Discretion.
In other words, William Pittis was thought to be a bad influence. It was probably not necessary to separate the two cousins in so extreme a manner. They were not alike. William Stephens was a strict "Oeconomist" ("economist") who kept "a regular Account, from the Time of his being a Schoolboy, of his Receipts and Disbursements..."
But his Kinsman [Pittis] was often engaged in Scrapes of one Kind or other; and seems to have been as little scrupulous how he got into Debt, as he appears to have been unconcerned, when he could send, in a Vein of Humour and Pleasantry, to his Friend to come and see him in his handsome Lodgings; and at the same Time tell him, he is at a Loss how to pay for them.
Then the novel quotes (page 21) a poem by William Pittis about getting evicted from his lodgings while suffering from a hangover. The Bum in the second line is (I believe) a bailiff that the landlady has summoned. The amount that the poet owes for food and board is 24 pounds:
Landlady, seeing Nothing come,
Takes out a Writ, and sees a Bum,
And, to make Good the Pay of Quarters,
Calls in th' Assistance of the Tartars;
And at my Chamber-door, confound her!
Places a four and twenty Pounder.
I, the mean Time, poor, fuddling Sinner!
Suspected no such Treach'ry in her;
But about Nine, in Morning waking,
With Head for last Night's Claret aching,
To Chamber-door, my Worship wagging,
Thrust back the Bolt, and call'd for Flaggin.
But see, what damn'd Misfortunes follow,
My thus debasing noble Swallow!
At this point, my comprehension is wagging and flagging as well, but soon the poet is apprehended:
Descend to Sin, so low as small Beer!
A Curse, for Time to come, on all Beer!
For 'stead of honest Wench, called Christian,
In steps, a heathenish Philistian,
And cries your servant Master P______s,
Against your Worship, Sir, this Writ is.
The rhyme doesn't work unless the underlined name is "Pittis." The poet wants to come clean but remain legally anonymous. The word "Philistian" occurs in John Milton's Samson Agonistes (1671) and means "Philistine."
The rest is a fairly comprehensible altercation of all the personages:
Then you may judge, I stood like Fool here,
And wanted no small Beer for cooler.
However I, to make the best
Of what is bad, cry'd whose Arrest?
For that's a Question poor Defendant,
Makes to the Bailiff his Attendant:
Sir, it's at the Suit of one you know well,
Your Landlady, old Mrs. Powell.
A trifling Action, crise the Varlet,
For one, like you, in Stockings scarlet,
Who makes so noble an Appearance;
I could have wish'd had Forebearance;
But four and twenty Pound, said Bum, Sir; ———
An inconsiderable Sum, Sir :
I believe that the next underlined word refers to his landlady as a "bitch" who has a few choice words as well for her tenant:
When in comes B______, of House the Mistress,
And thus addresses Man in Distress,
Sir, it is in vain to stand here prating,
Pay for your Lodging and for Eating;
Money's the Thing I want, for Words
They signify no more than T______s,
That missing word is obviously "turds." In the next lines, the landlandy suggests that his sister's husband (Zacheus Isham, the rector of All-Hallows Church on Lombard Street) can help out with the rent. Rev. Isham died in 1702, and his wife Elizabeth Pittis in 1705 (see the Pittis Genealogy, page 59), which help to date the poem as prior to their deaths. The poet doesn't respond to this suggestion, but indicates his opinion of the landlady with some underlines intended to obscure (but not entirely) the words "damned the whore.":
Your Mother's rich, your Brother preaches
In Lombard-Street among the Riches,
They'll lay down what's your Debt, or bail you;
Sure such Relations will not fail you!
I, who knew better, said no more,
But dress'd myself, and d_____d the W_____
Put nicest Periwig and Phiz on,
And off I march'd with Bum to Prison.
The author of The Castle-Builders continues:
Nothing can be offered in Excuse for this Sort of Behavior; though his Vivacity was so great, that it was with Difficulty he could lay aside his Gaiety, even upon grave Subjects; as appears upon another Occasion;...
And then appears an asterisk directing the reader to a footnote where "The Battle-royal, between Dr. Sh______, Dr. S______, and Dr. B______t" appears in its entirely (page 22 to 24), except that the word "Vagary" is misspelled "Fagary," after which William Pittis apparently disappears from this novel and I lose interest in it.
Are there textual similarities between the two poems? The only similarities I can find is that they both use the word "prating" as a rhyme, and they both use the word "sir" to turn a single-syllable rhyme into a double-syllable rhyme.
In her Pittis Genealogy, Margaret Birney Pittis does not quote from The Castle-Builders novel directly. Instead, she relies on a two-volume work by the Reverend Edward Boucher James. In his Letters, Archaeological and Historical: Relating to the Isle of Wight, Volume 1 (London: Henry Frowde, 1896), Rev. James quotes liberally from The Castle-Builders for a section on "The Stephens Family in the Isle of Wight" beginning on (page 649). William Pittis shows up on page 654 in a quote from the novel.
Volume 2 of Rev. James' Letters has a section on "The Pittis Family" beginning on pages 481. On the following page he writes:
Two of these fugitive poems of Pittis are given in The Castle Builders, pp. 21-25. They have a good deal of sprightly fun and playful humour, but are too much in the style so often assumed by Dean Swift to be reproduced in these pages. One of these turns upon his own personal midadventure on being served with a writ, and having in consequence to go with the bailiff to prison. The other is a pasquinade upon Dr. Sherlock, Dean of St. Paul's, and Dr. Burnet of the Charter House. Pittis flippantly accused Burnet of asserting that
'All the books of Moses
Were nothing but supposes
And he deserved rebuke, Sir,
Who wrote the Pentateuch, Sir,
'Twas nothing but a sham.'
Curiously, the Pittis Genealogy seems to quote from Rev. James' book but includes another stanza of the ballad as well as the poem about going to prison, so perhaps Margaret Birney Pittis also had a copy of The Castle-Builders.
Moses Supposes Erroneously
And here the sleuthing must end, except to note that this was not the last time that “Moses” was rhymed with “supposes.” A song and dance from the movie Singin' in the Rain is based on a tongue-twister with that rhyme, but that tongue-twister is already well documented and only seems to date from the 1880's rather than the 1690's.