11 November: Remembrance Day

It’s Remembrance Day. A day to remember war and think of peace. War has always been a scourge, it's mankind's fatal flaw. So hopes and prayers for a more peaceful world have been an important part of literature almost since there was literature.

John Gower (1330-1408) was a contemporary of William Langland and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. He was a Yorkshire man, a lawyer and a poet.  Chaucer called him ‘Moral Gower’ and made him his attorney. He must have been an impressive character and although he’s largely forgotten these days, we can glimpse his presence in history, not directly, but through his many friendships. Gower met King Richard II in about 1385 and wrote a long poem ‘Confessio Amantis’ which he dedicated to Richard.

‘The Confessions of a Lover’ are written as if by a forlorn lover dying from love. He confesses his sins and sorrows to Venus and Cupid, who finally cure him. But the confessions are merely a device to tell a number of individual stories. So Gower’s lover is a bit like the young nobles in ‘The Decameron’ or the pilgrims in ‘The Canterbury Tales’, he has lots of tales to tell.  The moral tone hides the confession of rather naughty behaviour, so the whole thing becomes wonderfully ironic.

Gower is buried in Southwark Cathedral and Shakespeare must have known of his works and some details of his life because he appears as a character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Here's a picture of Gower puncturing the pretensions of the world. (Note the longbow!)

This is John Gower’s poem ‘In Praise of Peace’ addressed to Henry IV. It’s a marvellous antidote to the St Crispin’s speech I posted a little while ago. There’s a translation at the end of this post, but I like the original. The key to understanding the language is to read it out loud, the meaning then becomes much clearer. I love the spelling, it gives an idea of why English spelling even today is so bizarre and when you read it you also get a flavour of how Gower and would have sounded when he spoke.

‘Pes is the chief of al the worldes welthe,
And to the Heven it ledeth ek the weie;
Pes is of soule and lif, the mannes helthe
Of pestilence, and doth the werre aweie.
My liege lord, tak hiede of that Y seie:
If werre may be left, tak pes on honde,
Which may noght be withoute Goddis sonde.

With pes stant every creature in reste;
Withoute pes ther may no lif be glad;
Above alle othre good, pes is the beste;
Pes hath himself whan werre is al bestad;
The pes is sauf, the werre is ever adrad:
Pes is of al charité the keie,
Which hath the lif and soul forto weie.

My liege lord, if that thee list to seeche 
The sothe essamples that the werre hath wroght,
Thow schalt wiel hiere of wisemennes speche,
That dedly werre turneth into noght;
For if these olde bokes be wel soght,
Ther myght thou se what thing the werre hath do,
Bothe of conqueste and conquerer also.

For vein honour or for the worldes good,
Thei that whilom the stronge werres made,
Wher be thei now? Bethenk wel in thi mod,
The day is goon, the nyght is derk and fade;
Her crualté, which mad hem thanne glade,
Thei sorwen now and yit have noght the more;
The blod is schad which no man mai restore.

The werre is modir of the wronges alle:
It sleth the prest in Holi Chirche at Masse,
Forlith the maide and doth here flour to falle;
The werre makth the grete citee lasse,
And doth the Lawe his reules overpasse.
There is no thing wherof meschef mai growe,
Which is noght caused of the werre, Y trowe.

Here is Gower in a much later etching. His manicured beard appears in both drawings so it must have been notable!

I've made a pudding adapted from a recipe in Marguerite Patten's book of war time recipes. My Aunt Frances used to make something very similar with apples and lemon. This is made with pear and ginger but the variations are vast - plum and cinnamon, pear and cardamon, blackberry and allspice…make up your own. It's a sort of Brown Betty but without the inner layer of crumbs which I think make a b-b too stodgy.

Baked Pear and Ginger Pudding.

For the topping
4 oz soft white breadcrumbs
1½ oz butter
2oz sugar - Demerara is best
½ tsp ground ginger

4/5 pears
Sugar or honey to taste
1 lump candied ginger and a little syrup from the jar

Blitz the breadcrumbs with the sugar and butter and ginger. Peel chunk and stew the pears until soft and add the ginger diced finely. Allow to cool a little then taste and add sugar or honey. If your pears were watery, which mine were, thicken the juice with a little arrowroot.

Put the fruit in an oven proof dish and top with the crumbs. Bake or 30 minutes at 180c. Serve warm with cream or even better - vanilla ice cream.

I wish I'd used a shallower dish and also allowed the fruit to cool before adding the topping, then it wouldn't have bubbled through.


Peace is the chief of all the world’s wealth,
And to the Heaven it leadeth e’en the way;
Peace is of man’s soul and life the health
And doth with pestilence and the war away.
My liege lord, take heed of that I say:
If war may be left off, take peace on hand,
Which may not be unless God doth it send.

With peace may every creature dwell in rest;
Without peace there may no life be glad;
Above all other good, peace is the best;
Peace hath himself when war is all bested;
Peace is secure, war ever is a dread:
Peace is of all charity the key,
Which hath the life and soul for to weigh.

My liege lord, if that thee wished to seek
The some examples that the war hath wrought,
Thou shall well hear of wise men’s speech,
That deadly war turns into naught;
For if these old books be well sought,
There might thou see what thing the war hath done,
Both of conquered and conqueror also.

For vain honour or for the world’s good,
They that aforetimes the strong battles made,
Where be they now? Bethink well in thy mood,
The day is gone; the night is dark and fade;
Her cruelty, which then did make them glad,
Thy sorrow now and yet have naught the more;
The blood is shed which no man may restore.

The war is mother of the wronges all:
It slayeth the priest in Holy Church at Masse,
Assaults the maid and makes her flower to fall;
The war maketh the great city less,
And doth the Law his rules to overpass.
There is no thing whereof mischief may grow,
Which is naught caused of the war, I trow.

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