Praise-God Barebone

English seller of exotic leather goods, bearbaiter; turned into either a pedo-baptist, or Anabaptist preacher. Born 1596, died 1680; he was a compatriot of Oliver Cromwell.

At the age of 27, in 1623, Barebone was admitted as a freeman to the Leathersellers Company of London, and in 1634 as a liveryman. While he attended to the stock and trade common to the broad functional demands made on leather in his time, his substantial property and comfort came from his successes in purveying assorted harnesses and unexpected devices (to be worn by people of a particular inclination) crafted of leather in the service of a certain aesthetic founded in sensual and "unusual" erotic applications, discussions of which were not included in genteel conversations. As well, and by reason of experience gathered in the construction of the recreational goods mentioned, Barebone began to produce and offer stout harnesses for use in bearbaiting, and later, for bullbaiting, considering these devices to answer extensions of a similar base instinctual drive as that accommodated by his somewhat less grotesque boudoir fripperies.

Barebone's success in quietly selling considerable quantities of accouterments for private amusement in the bedchambers of more adventuresome Londoners had a basis in copious research, and not merely in the fortuitous offering of a timely product. His reputation as a rake was well ordained, for he would not for a moment consider recommending an exotic product for sensual exploration which he himself had not tested exhaustively. While he spent considerable time at it, perhaps this research actually was most demanding of the strumpets on which he performed his "design exercises" and "tests." Every conceivable posture, presentation, restraint, compression, contortion, and otherwise deviant distortion was attempted with variable success and too often failure, with one exception. Which was, that Barebone observed that courtesans plied a particular trade, and regardless of the discomfort, or awkwardness of the often too-tight devices he was laying on, he always demanded a consummation of the coupling which the entire performance implied -- keeping, at all times, a close watch on his expenditures vis-a-vis research and development. More than once he injured himself in these exertions; the fate of the trollops is not recorded.

Now, when mentioning that diversions of such a nature were not within the purview of the more refined extensions of society, one must take into account the measure of such things employed in Barebone's world. Acceptable polite behavior was, more often than not, defined by observation of the actions of the King and/or Queen, whose unquestioned position at the pinnacle of society held a certain sway. What was amusing to the King was amusing to the court; what was delightful to the Queen was a joy to the Ladies. Largely, it was a question of appearances and attainment, not ethics or morals, which defined correct comportment; and a respect for privacy -- feigned or real -- had one declare broad ignorance, naturally implying innocence. Consequently, identifying refined society was a highly subjective business, colored by a host of considerations. How different from today...

In this swirling universe, Barebone, a slim fey figure gliding through the shadows of the twilight to yet another silken rendezvous, took account of his horizons, so conveniently measured for him by the appetites of the cognoscenti, and saw broader potentials in new appliances of bondage than from the polite offerings stemming from his proclivity for modest dalliance. Why stop with the boudoir? There were such merry other sports amusing the masses, as well as the royalty and associated elevated circles, that, considering these, grand visions grasped him firmly, giving rise to new avarice -- the prospect of lucre of serious dimensions...

Bearbaiting already was a traditional popular entertainment established for over a hundred years throughout England; the exhibitions taking place usually on a Sunday after Church, in theater-like arenas called bear gardens. In this festive atmosphere large crowds of all classes would gather, bringing their lunches and taking their seats to delight in the horrificly bloody spectacle of a bear chained by the neck and/or leg to a heavy stake, there to be harassed and eventually killed by being ripped to pieces by mongrel dogs. From the time that Barebone was five years old his family had attended these spectacles, and he loved them.

Keeping large groups of bears for this purpose, usually in deep pits, or in chains, was a good business (as was demonstrated by Barebone's grandfather, and one uncle.) In order to assure that the bears would possess a suitably disagreeable temperament -- thereby giving the customers a show worth their money -- they were forced to lie on beds of thorns, were starved, whipped, stoned, and in every other way abused extensively; it was effective, and similar treatment (sometimes worse) was afforded the participating dogs.

The amusement had been given an imprimatur of respectability when, decades earlier, Queen Elizabeth I had often attended bear baiting extravaganzas. On one such occasion special measures were taken to assure a grand spectacle worthy of her Excellency's kind attention and amusement. In 1575 (the year that Elizabeth had gotten rid of that nuisance, Mary Queen of Scots) a grand baiting was prepared for her Majesty; thirteen bears being provided, which was something of an exorbitant record at the time.

Of this particular lavish brutality Robert Laneham (later in that same year) wrote that is was "very pleasant to see," especially, he remarked, "the nimbleness and wait of the dog to take his advantage." Laneham went on, saying that the bear, tearing himself free of the dogs, and shaking his ripped ears "with the blood and the slaver hanging about his physiognomy" gave delightful amusement to Her Majesty, who was beside herself, giggling like a school girl. This story was often repeated to the young Barebone by his grandfather, as he sat upon the old man's knee.

Consequently, it did not take long before many variations of this popular activity were to be seen in every region of the realm. One of the first to appear was bullbaiting, which had a similar plot; the bull being chained to a stake so as to be torn apart by dogs. Refinements immediately arose (in which Barebone's uncle played some role) to enhance the entertainment value of the process. At the start of the baiting, the bull's nose was blown full of cayenne pepper as a means to arouse it further beyond its already frenetic state. Specially trained dogs were released one at a time, their purpose being to seize the tethered bull's tender nose, over which it was already in a state of great agitation and inclination to protect. The dog which successfully latched onto this tender part was said to have pinned the bull.

Another highly popular variation used no dogs at all. In this presentation, a bear's eyes were gouged out. As the terrified beast stumbled about in the arena, six men would savagely whip it (with bull whips), causing the confused animal to turn about violently in all directions, not knowing the location of its tormentors. This was seen to be especially hilarious, and an extra price was charged for admission; it became one of Barebone's favorites.

But later, and with a clear profit motive, into this well-established circus of family entertainment stepped Praise-God Barebone, ripe with ideas of his own for richer refinements as a product of his clever leather harnesses and other theatrical devices. In the first place, he reasoned, the existing methods could be improved by replacing the simple and crude chains with sophisticated leather tackle which could hold the bull's nose up, for example, or restrain the bear from opening its jaw. His products began to flood the amusement market, but this was not enough to satisfy an inventive man like Barebone.

Not content to merely sell stout constraints for already existing methodologies, Barebone created an entirely new version of the baiting game, and it was an immediate success. He contrived a complex harness which tied an ape to the back of a pony. The pony was then chained to the usual stake and attacked by dogs. A Spanish nobleman, Hernan Fuentes, found this spectacle to be most entertaining, and wrote to Barebone, "to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screaming of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is highly laughable. I most thoroughly enjoyed this exhilarating diversion."

Barebone added measurably to his financial resources, and bought himself a house of substance and ostentation called "Lock and Key," on Fleet Street, London. He began to cultivate social connections which would situate him in a 'proper' position in London as a product of his intellect and genial graces, not merely by reason of his financial accomplishments. To this end he entered into correspondence with such luminaries as were recommended to him, seeking to expand his comprehension of the more ephemeral and exalted human concerns, and thereby to cause a positive apprehension of himself as a man of letters and superior moral attainment.

One problem was that Barebone, having been admitted to study at Eton as a young man (there was considerable money in the hands of that uncle), had failed Latin, causing his expulsion from that illustrious private school; more significant as a social setback than an educational one. But, Lincoln's Inn (another 'private establishment of study for young gentlemen') was more inclined to notice the shine on the coins of his uncle, while willing to feign lack of notice of his academic 'inattention' as it concerned Latin. After all, there were always Greek and French to study.

Barebone failed Greek and French, but went on to accomplish that which has already been ascribed to him in spite of these linguistic limitations.

With such credentials at his disposal, and in the mood to elevate his position as is mentioned above, Barebone later boldly sent an extensive inquiry to Benedict de Spinoza, in Amsterdam, in August of 1641. Barebone wished to read, he indicated to Spinoza, that noted philosopher's treatise on ethics -- with the thought in mind, he indicated, of entering a discourse on the topic as he had extensive opinions on these matters, especially.

Spinoza sent him The Ethics, in Latin.

In a generous mood one might ascribe Barebone's confusions of Spinoza's ideas to his lack of opportunity (!) to develop a complete understanding of the Latin language, but taking into account his underlying aspiration to move in more genteel circles in London society, that generosity would be ill spent on all counts. It must be noted that one reason for this desire on Barebone's part (entering higher social circles) had to do with his wife, Bernardina. Pointedly stated, it had to do with his interest in finding a 'quality' replacement for her.

She was a pleasant enough person by independent estimations; he had met her at a tannery where she was stacking raw goat hides in the hot noonday sun. Brushing the flies aside, there was a fetching twinkle in her eyes, and if one could choke down the smell, she was agreeable enough to caress; especially considering the lingering coating of goat fat which soothed and lubricated amorous adventures. At that point in his life -- his late twenties -- Barebone preferred this form of comfort, and found no meaning in the fact that she was his senior by a decade.

They married, and he remained loyal in his estimation, such as it was. It was shortly after his marriage that Barebone became heavily engaged in his product development phase, designing and testing exotic leather constraining devices with the assistance of courtesans, as has been aforementioned. This provided him no cause to recognize any conflict: the leather business was business; the comfort of his home life was private and separate from the concerns of his mercantile aspirations. Besides, what she didn't know couldn't hurt, and he did rather enjoy working hard at research...

Now his successes overtook him, and his newfound interest in status and appearances began to corrode the gloss he once saw on this simple and reliable spouse. Her social graces were not lacking, they were nonexistent. Plus, the trials of her longer life, as well as her heroic appetite had reshaped her countenance in a direction which Barebone no longer considered suitable to his purposes as a man of respectable accomplishment and lofty station.

Which brings us back to his analysis of Spinoza. With his flawed comprehension of Latin put to the severest test, Barebone feverishly inspected Spinoza's Ethics, discovering, at least, that this was a work in which had been developed a broad deductive system, having a basis in Spinoza's vision of all existence as an enormous unity, as well as in his psychological insights of profound solidity and depth. It was in the details that Barebone became lost.

In Part One of the Ethics, in proposition 33, Spinoza states (in correct translation), "Things could not have been brought into being by God in any manner or in any order different from that which has in fact obtained." Of course Spinoza meant 'things' to communicate those cardinal attributes of Nature which he held God to have authored: fire, water, the wind, mountains, creatures, etc. In his proof of this proposition, Spinoza explains that had the nature of things been different in multiple examples, or conditioned to behave in a different way from that which was observed, then the nature of God, from whom all things flowed, could be different relative to each distinct variation, allowing for two or more gods at once, an absurdity by reason of his Proposition 14. This is an incomplete explanation of Spinoza, but never mind; Barebone's was thinner still.

Estimating 'things' to encompass all that was to be seen, including the works of men, was the fatal flaw in the shaky translation with which Barebone struggled. In this understanding (which was conveniently fatalistic in the service of Barebone's predilections), erotic leather goods, bearbaiting, the employment of courtesans, social climbing and all else existed inevitably and in the precisely predetermined service of God. What a relief.

At this same time as all the rest of his above mentioned activities, and imagining no conflict in it now that he 'understood' such an unassailable moral authority as Spinoza, Barebone decided to spread the word of his new convictions and became a secular minister to a congregation of the faithful which he invited to assemble at his home. Here was an opportunity to establish a place for himself above the simple concerns of his wife and other disagreeable details of his life's progress.

His preaching was rousing and fiery, and drew large and growing audiences, which soon spilled out onto the streets for lack of room in the house. The one principle difficulty with the sermons of Barebone was that while they stirred up considerable enthusiasm, as well as fervor, there was at the same time a prevalent confusion about just what he had said or meant. As a result, frequent riots broke out among the worshipers as they professed their understanding of his words with their fists. On December 19, 1641, a mob attacked his house, fired by the vehement belief that he had offended their heart-felt sensibilities toward some article of faith. The ensuing report explained that one man was kicked "as if they meant to beate him into a jelly." None of this is surprising considering the depth of intellectual investment employed by Barebone in the formation of his principles.

The principles of religion for which Barebone stood have never been determined, and in fact the schools of thought which exist have him either an Anabaptist (one who believes that baptism should not take place until adulthood, when a reasoned decision on the matter can be made by an informed consenting individual), or that he was a pedo-baptist (the complete opposite, which supports the idea that baptism should take place immediately on a newborn infant, in order to wash away the stain of Original Sin.) Taking into account the nature of Barebone's faith, he probably supported both points of view as each opportunity arose. At least in these actions he was broadly tolerant in an age of controversy and acrimonious debate.

By reason of their various outrageous indulgences and self-interested autocratic proclamations and worse, the Stuart kings and queens had fallen into disfavor, and control of the British Isles fell into the hands of Oliver Cromwell by the middle of the 17th century . In his attempts to form a functional and rational government, Cromwell caused a parliament to be formed on July 4, 1653, in London. Cromwell asked Barebone to sit in the assembly as the member for the city of London by reason of his prominent wealth and reputation as a 'moral authority.'

This first Cromwell parliament became known as the "Barebone's Parliament" in honor of our man, in spite of the fact that although he was widely known as an engaging and impassioned orator, apparently he never participated in any debate during that parliament, and resigned from it the following December.

He did, nonetheless, become impassioned in his opposition to the restoration of the Stuarts, and authored a petition deprecating any reconciliation with them. His most vigorous action in this regard was his sponsorship and circulation of Marchamont Needham's pamphlet "News From Brussels in a Letter From a Near Attendant on His Majesty's Person...," which luridly described "unfavourable anecdotes relating to Charles II's morals." His efforts failed, and the Restoration occurred in May of 1660.

It seems that the most damning evidence illustrating the immoral actions of Charles II concerned the revelation that he was accidentally discovered in an inappropriate bedchamber with the Duchess of Savoy, where he was in the act of confining her with an exotic leather harness which he had obtained in London some years earlier from an unnamed purveyor of such goods; a man who arrived silently from the shadows of the night...

For his noble deeds, Praise-God Barebone remains in the history books over three hundred years after his death.

© Jerome C. Krause