"'Tis a True, an Honorable and an Ancient Order, - The Order of the Inn, - immemorially cherished and nurtured in all the Ages of Mankind."
So goes the story: many years ago, while my father worked at a brewery, he came across a peculiar copper shield, some three feet high by two feet across, accompanied by a booklet that had aged to a dark brown color, all set in a large display case. Asking the brew-master from whence it had come, the only answer was a solemn "the Old World." My father admired this item as long as he worked there. As things go in this world, the brewery was purchased by a larger commercial brand that soon shut it down and moved the bulk of its brewing equipment out west. The remainder of the brewery's content - including this peculiar copper shield - was designated for disposal in any way the management saw fit. In an act of supreme charity, the brew-master, seeing my fathers perpetual interest in this artifact, gave it to him gratis along with some other breweriana (but that is a topic for another time)!
That copper shield can be seen as the header image for this article, as well as at the upper right of this blog.
As for the aged documentation that went along with it, you can see scans of them here (pdf file): Order of the Inn
The documentation, dated "1659 (Middle Temple Gate, Fleet Street)" is a rule book of sorts for a gentlemen's club where four degrees of membership (gold, silver, bronze and copper) can come together to shut out the cruel, dark world by enjoying the company of others (with a helping of good food and drink, of course!).
As the manual states:
"Forasmuch as Our Day had fallen in Evil Times, beset by Sinister Samaritans; and Forasmuch as What our Forebears cherished as of Nature's Right, vouchsafed by Kindly Providence, hath been made Mock of and been Endangered of its Life; Now, therefore, be The Order of the Inn ordained by Gentlemen of Fair Fealty.
'Tis a Prayer devoutly wished, for the Fair Credit of the Inn, that Customs old be born again; and some new; and be Rightfully Maintained with Spirit and Delight.
The Inn be to Its Honorable Members a haven, made safe from all the world."
Noble sentiments in our dark times as well! Perhaps this is why The Order of the Inn has resonated as deeply within me as it had within my father before me.
Unfortunately, there is a problem with the documentation. As noted on the cover page, the printing date is indicated as "1659." However, the text of the rule book would seem to contradict that. Within, the reader finds a number of quotations from prominent writers of the past - such individuals as Shakespeare (of course!), as well as Robert Burton who seems to be best known for The Anatomy of Melancholy. These are fine as they are in keeping with the book's suggested printing date. The problem, however, arises with the quotations of some other literary figures, such as Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson. You see, Pope was not born until 1688, and Johnson not until 1709! In other words, both weren't even born until after the printing date of this handbook! So, unless one is willing to entertain the notion that the good Inn had at its disposal a time machine, the date must be in error. In the course of my research, I have discovered that none of the quotes used in this manual exceed the 18th Century, something that would indicate to me that that while the handbook might not be 354 years old, it could very well be over 200 years old. Not too shabby.
Who was responsible for printing this rule book? Alas, I haven't been able to ascertain more than what is mentioned on the title page:
"LONDON, PRIVATELY PRINTED BY D. M.
FOR THE GENTLEMEN OF THE BENCH & BAR
AT THE MIDDLE TEMPLE GATE
IN FLEET STREET, 1659 "
Who could this D.M. be?
I did some research into printeries using "Middle Temple Gate" and "Fleet Street" as search criteria. While I failed to locate a mention of a printery with the initials "D. M.," I did find one with the initials "B. M.," as in Benjamin Motte. Motte (November 1693 – 12 March 1738) was a printer of some repute who published manuscripts from such literary notables as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Is it possible that "D. M." is an error, much as the printing date must be (again, the printing date must be be incorrect if Motte was the printer as he wasn't born until 1693)? Should it be "B. M." instead, as it might well be "1759" instead of "1659"? I suppose so. But it is just as possible that "D. M." was some little known printer who has since faded into history, and the date of "1659" might be a reference to what we would now consider the original, first edition printing date, with my copy being a later, updated edition for a subsequent "inn" a century or so after the original manuscript was penned.
Or the whole thing could just be a shoddy fraud - without expert analysis, this possibility must be considered. I pretend no expertise when it comes to antiques, so my detective work could be horribly off base in numerous ways. The only way I will ever get a true accounting of The Order of the Inn of Ye Bench & Bar would be hire someone with actual expertise in this area. Perhaps some day. Truth be told, I care little for the authenticity as it is the idea that I like most of all. It might be a fraud but, if so, it most certainly is a well meant fraud in my opinion!
So, why name a blog after it? The older I get, the more I become fond of what one writer termed "sad, old things." Such things as my shield and its accompanying documentation remind me of Tolkien's admonition that history is "a long defeat—though it contains...some samples or glimpses of final victory." Assuming the two hundred year or so pedigree of the documentation is accurate, it only goes to show how even back yonder men were looking about the world and saying to themselves, "No, no, no! This is not going to end well!" Perhaps that is always the way of men. Perhaps that is merely our egos obliquely complaining "If only I was king for a time, then I could set things right!" But, then again, perhaps it is just an accurate realization deep in our bones that while the world has certainly progressed in areas of science and technology, the rest of human civilization, what is correctly referred to as "the humanities,' has severely regressed (Peter Kreeft: "Our culture has filled our heads but emptied our hearts, stuffed our wallets but starved our wonder."). Tolkien's long defeat, indeed.
So, seeing how my gaming blog is largely dormant now that gaming has almost completely imploded, I'd thought it might be fun to use the basis of that implosion, i.e., shoddy craftsmanship in the service of unscrupulous profiteers, as the launching point for a new blog that will consist of carefully chosen evidentiary specimens of what I consider to be the general decline of Western civilization (such as the fact that I had to add "evidentiary" to my spellcheck program! The language of a civilization is the first thing to go....). That actually sounds more grandiose than I intended. More prosaically: I will be posting a lot of stuff that sucks about the modern world, but also some of the "brief glimpses of final victory" that can still be found from time to time. And, unlike my gaming blog, I fully intend to keep these entries short and to the point as I just don't have the patience I once used to have when it comes to my writing!
So stick around. This might be interesting. But probably not. But could be.