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April 27

A Princess from the Past

When Sean found me behind the bookcase I had just found Jack's copy of The Case of Madam Mary Carleton, the autobiographical account of that late, poor liar, cheater, and temptress. I had not seen it since she gave it to Jack over a dozen years ago, and not thought about it since her hanging. The book recounts Mary's successful masquerade as a German Princess, under which guise she married the fool John Carleton:
Mr. Carleton was clearly out of his depth with her, and such antics won her a great many admirers, including Jack.  She left him, predictably, while he was heavily intoxicated, after taking his horse, his keys, his jewels, and his money, leaving him this book and its inscription:
To my Dearest Jacques, who taught me Everything I ever needed to know - MMC.

She was quite a woman -- necessary to best Jack at his own game; revisiting the book and remembering her charm will be some compensation for spending nearly two days behind those damn shelves. Some.

Spacious Greenery

Several hours have passed and I have managed to escape London. Hopefully, I will not find the Unicorn burnt to the ground upon my return. I wrote before of sentimentality (or bile as most know it) and wished to conclude my thoughts as I now find myself in more agreeable circumstance, situated as I am in a country tavern (the Saracen’s Head) with a pipe in one hand and an ale in the other.

Englishmen may be a boorish and uncouth race of men, but if they share one thing in common with the Irish, it is their love of the countryside. While my country has no rival in its splendor, it can be said that English have made have done their utmost to preserve their own negligible beauty.

If London will have faded from memory in 500 years time (which I believe it will) what will be remembered of England and its past grandeur will be its countryside which by any intelligent reckoning shall remain unchanged. What should and will change will be people’s access to this beauty, as one cannot ramble more than five feet into a field without someone chasing you off the grounds, pike in hand. By the King’s blessing, his grounds will someday be open for all to enjoy and hunt and make merry as they will. A man will be able to look upon at Great Houses and enter a Wondrous Church without fear for his head…

But perhaps I am too much in my cups. I know these things cannot happen – once again the bile has its grip upon my being.

Wandering the Dark Streets of London

I awoke this morning having with my humors in a most depressing state. Mostly consisting of black bile, I found myself longing for a trip away from the city, to environs that would help me find a proper balance.

Sentimentality, the most grievous result of bile, had me turn Ajax towards the countryside. Years ago, one could escape the city at a fast gallop in a matter of minutes. Now, I find London sprawling before me, endless and unyielding. Since the Fire, buildings have sprouted up at every angle, with no rhyme nor reason, the exception being Wren’s plan to subjugate all Catholics in the City with the building of his monstrous Cathedral.

It has been whispered that there were better plans for London. More refined company has spoken of wide avenues and graceful laid out in an orderly and agreeable fashion. They speak enviously of Paris, whose beauty surpasses all other cities of the civilized world.  If London is to be remembered in 500 years, it would do well to learn the lessons of its cousin. Every step one takes in that city is a reminder of its past and present magnificence, and that reminder brings with it a calming balm to its citizenry who sleep contentedly in the knowledge that their ideas and dreams are reflected around them.

London, however, remains what it is. While my erstwhile friends might refer to me as a uncouth Irishman who knowledge of cities and their workings could be written on the head of pin, I think if they were to be true to themselves they would admit that their City was little more than a pompous ruffian playing dress up – worse yet – one who is willfully ignoring the chance to better himself.

April 23


Patrick has taken to calling the Crimson Unicorn the “Uni.”

As in “Sean, let us proceedeth hence to the Uni.”

Or, “Sean, what fair maidens might greet me tonight at the Uni?”

I despise this.

Silence and other thoughts

It seems the days pass much faster than they ought. It took nearly two days to discover Patrick behind the bookshelf, mewling like a broken kitten. The heathen, having his choice of literature to keep him company, forsook the Holy Book and instead was found perusing a stack of racy pamphlets that Jack had picked up from the docks.

Of the “debacle” I should not say much more than I find these customs both impudent and ridiculous. Having bled my country til nothing was left but her bones, these officials seem intent on assaulting their own citizenry.

I find myself in a malaise. Wealth has not brought with it contentment, and I find myself spending more time poring over papers and receipts than visiting the bawdy house. I begin to understand Jack’s nature more by the day.

April 16

On the Tax Ramifications of the Classification of Species

Stuck between Jack's fireplace and Dante's Inferno this afternoon, after our attempt to deceive the hearth inspector failed, and Jack, angry with Sean at his part in this additional and unnecessary expense, led the inspector straight to the Crimson Unicorn to make certain every hearth there was accounted for on the King's rolls, forgetting that he had left me pinned behind a bookcase I could not move alone, I had some opportunity to reconsider my tack in an ongoing feud with His Majesty's Customs Officials.

With a few colleagues from the Society I have been attempting to raise Atrophaneura dasarada in a hothouse, and our agent in the East returned recently with many fine larvae on its preferred meal:  several bushes of Indigofera kirilowii.  His Majesty's customs official down at the dock considers this Indigo and thus subject to a comically high excise tax.  I explained, politely, that Indigofera kirilowii is not at all the useful Indigofera tinctora, and therefore is not subject to this tax.  He explained, not at all politely, that

1) Indigo is Indigo;
2) I may pay him; or
3) I may go swive myself.

Our poor larvae, therefore, sit chomping on their bushes in a dockside warehouse while I dash between the Royal Society, soliciting funding for the tax, and the docks, where I beseech, cajole, threaten, and again beseech the customs official to see his gross taxonomical error.  I have had success in neither so far, and I fear that His Majesty's Customs house will soon become the world's greatest lepidopterium. 

Perhaps I can persuade Jack to vent his spleen at that damned official, to the advantage of my poor Atrophaneura dasarada

April 15

Tax Day

Current mood: Impecunious

I will not make a secret of the fact that I am in a very ill temper this evening. The fault lies directly with King Charles, though Sean and Patrick are in no small degree responsible themselves. It is the singularly unjust policy of His Majesty's government to intrude upon the privacy of citizens like myself, who have worked our fingers to the bone to scrape together some small comforts in this harsh world, such as a fireplace (or, in my case seven fireplaces) to keep out the bitter winter cold; a healthy mare to provide transport from place to place (or, if your estate is as large as mine, a team of horses and a French-made 1676-model Gala Coupé carriage); and a trusted maid to keep your home in order (again, if we are talking about me here, which strictly-speaking, we are, this would technically be three maids, a manservant, a full-time groom, and a personal chef). To intrude, as I say, upon the privacy of citizens like myself who have barely enough to make ends meet as it is, and to count the number of fireplaces in our home—by way of establishing our worth—so as to make us pay a "Hearth Tax" to support the dubious policies of the Crown, whether we agree with them or not.

King Charles II: Robbing England blind since the Restoration

As I do not agree with the policies of this government (particularly those which allow government agents to make nuisances of themselves where people's fireplaces are concerned), it has been my own policy for some years to leave the door unanswered when the taxman comes to call, and I have made a point of including it very prominently in the list of "100 simple rules to make your stay more pleasant for all" which I give to all my guests. As of this morning, when he answered the door—my door—to the Hearth Tax inspector, Sean has now broken every single rule on that list. Including the one about not being drunk before 9 o'clock on Sunday mornings, which I only put in there as a joke. Well, as soon as I realized who it was that Sean was speaking with, I did the only thing a reasonable man could do in such a situation: I roused Patrick from his study and set him to work moving large pieces of furniture to conceal as many fireplaces as he could before the tax inspector discovered them. When Sean found me and Patrick, frantically pushing a day-bed in front of the fireplace in the withdrawing room, and blithely informed us that a man was "here about the hearths," I instructed him (through gritted teeth) to return to the tax inspector and distract the man for as long as he could manage. 

The dreaded Hearth Tax

This proved not to be very long at all, as the gentleman appeared—followed by a shamefaced and sullen Sean—less than fifteen minutes later, just as Patrick and I were maneuvering a massive bookcase to cover the hearth in the dining room. Patrick had managed somehow to get himself between the bookcase and the fireplace, so when the inspector walked into the room he discovered me effectively walling my accomplice in behind the collected works of Dante Alighieri, which—especially after Patrick involuntarily pushed his hand through La Vita Nuova and both volumes of De Vulgari Eloquentia to reveal that he was standing in front of a fireplace—proved very difficult to explain in any other way than that I was attempting to cheat the government out of its blasted hearth tax. I hate Tax Day.

April 6

Good (Fri)Day

Holy Week being upon us in Full Force, activity chez Jacques has come to a halt.  Though such a thought runs contrary to Jack's vocal and vociferous protests, I believe he appreciates his Mother-in-Law's insistence that they observe all Holy Week celebrations, for it gives him a blind behind which to hide his true devotion to the Protestant faith.  Even when beyond the clutches of the Ogress, he has become contemplative.

Sean returned last night reeking of the censer, which smell prompted from the Ogress first hostile glances and then several unkind thoughts against the Pope: "A noxious, pernicious milksop whose very lips drip Plague" being her exact words.   Sean did not appreciate this, Jack sided -- unusually -- against him and with her, and for the first time since coming into wealth Sean spent the night in the stable with Bucephelus.  He -- Innocent XI -- is recently elected, so I cannot confirm the plague part, but he does seem a bit effeminate: 

Innocentxi_2Regardless, I leave the sectarian squabbles to them.  I will spend much of the weekend at the RS at a conference on exotic flora, soliciting sponsorship for the collection of samples while on our expedition East.