It’s the name of several decent (and the odd indecent) pubs around the country. The one down the Old Kent Road closed some time back; but Malcolm fondly believes its namesake in Reading continues.
Some say the name came about because of the discovery of Australia, the predicted “southern continent”. Perhaps another, better explanation is the earlier 1646 ballad lamenting the changes, especially the abolition of Christmas traditions, imposed by the extreme puritanism of the English Revolution:
Listen to me and you shall hear, news hath not been this thousand year:
Since Herod, Caesar, and many more, you never heard the like before.
Holy-dayes are despis’d, new fashions are devis’d.
Old Christmas is kickt out of Town.
Yet let’s be content, and the times lament, you see the world turn’d upside down.
… a golden Chain …
For a start, for the metaphor of turning the world “upsidedown” to work, the image of a globe needs to be established. Which in itself raises a question: when did common culture accept the Copernican universe? Milton, a precise contemporary of that ballad, at least for the purposes of his poetry, preferred the Pythagorean notion. In Book II of Paradise Lost, the entire created universe still hangs from Heaven by a golden chain:
Farr off th’ Empyreal Heav’n, extended wide
In circuit, undetermind square or round,
With Opal Towrs and Battlements adorn’d
Of living Saphire, once his native Seat;
And fast by hanging in a golden Chain
This pendant world, in bigness as a Starr
Of smallest Magnitude close by the Moon.
Of course neither Milton nor his audience were so unsophisticated and lacking in scientific knowledge to accept that. Therefore, at the start of Book VIII, Milton’s Adam presses the Archangel Raphael for clarification about:
… this Earth a spot, a graine,
An Atom, with the Firmament compar’d
And all her numberd Starrs, that seem to rowle
Spaces incomprehensible (for such
Thir distance argues and thir swift return
Diurnal) meerly to officiate light
Round this opacous Earth, this punctual spot …
Opacous [OED: not shining, dull, dark]: what would Milton (or any other poet or seer) make of those iconic images of Earth seen from space?
… by revolution lowering …
At the beginning of Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare has Antony in Egypt (Act I, scene ii) receiving a series of reports, all contrary, concluding with the death of his wife Fulvia. This determines him to return to Rome:
Thus did I desire it:
What our contempt doth often hurl from us,
We wish it ours again; the present pleasure,
By revolution lowering, does become
The opposite of itself: she’s good, being gone;
The hand could pluck her back that shoved her on.
I must from this enchanting queen break off:
Ten thousand harms, more than the ills I know,
My idleness doth hatch.
With this simple phrase, Shakespeare provides the “foreshadowing” of the whole subsequent drama. At one level it is simply the diurnal “revolution” of the earth, as surely as night follows day. At another it implies the nature of fickle Fortuna.
On doesn’t get far in early literature without hitting on the Greek deity Tychē, or her Roman equivalent Fortuna. Poor old Ovid, exiled up the Black Sea for drawing attention to the affairs going on in the Imperial family, writes home lamenting his luck and the malevolent Fortuna who landed him so far away:
quid facis, a! demens? cur, si Fortuna recedat,
naufragio lacrimis eripis ipse tuo?
haec dea non stabili, quam sit levis, orbe fatetur,
quae summum dubio sub pede semper habet.
Which translates something like:
Ah, why do this, madman? Why, in case Fortune should leave you, do you rob your own shipwreck of tears? She is a goddess who shows her own fickleness by her unstable wheel; she always has his high point under her unsteady foot.
That only makes sense if an image is already established, of the goddess standing on the Wheel of Fortune, a wheel that inevitably will turn, lift up the mighty, then throw them down again.
Around AD524 Boethius considered the working of Fate in The Consolation of Philosophy. Christianity may have denied Fortuna her deity, and forced her into an abstraction, “casus”. She’s still there, with her wheel. She is in the tesselated pavement of the Duomo of Siena, no less (as right).
Chaucer translates and repeatedly refers to Boethius, and so the student of English literature has to tackle it as it as a standard text. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, then, Chaucer is taking the image of Fortune’s Wheel, and using the word “revolution” in a changed sense, so an important English metaphor is developing:
It is of Love, as of Fortune,
That chaungeth oft, and nill contune,
Which whylome woll of folke smile,
And glombe on hem another while …
A foole is he that woll her trust,
For it is I that am come down
Through change and revolutioun.
“Only a fool trusts her, for I am brought down through change and revolution.”
Anybody knows one phrase from Hamlet, Act V, scene i. The gravedigger passes Hamlet a skull, saying it is that of Yorick, the former king’s jester. Prince Hamlet comments:
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.
A few lines earlier Hamlet is regarding another skull, tossed out of the exhumation:
This might be my lord such-a-one, that prais’d my lord such-a-one’s horse, when he meant to beg it; might it not? … Why, e’en so; and now my Lady Worm’s; chapless, and knock’d about the mazzard [head] with a sexton’s spade. Here’s fine revolution, if we had the trick to see’t. Did these bones cost no more the breeding, but to play at loggats [sticks] with’em? Mine ache to think on ’t.
We are nearly arrived at the modern, political sense of “revolution”. By the later seventeenth century it has arrived. John Evelyn, the diarist, says of the flight of King James II in 1688:
The Popists in offices lay down their Commissions & flie: ‥. it lookes like a Revolution.
That term, always with its capital letter, is soon the normal description for the Williamite take-over (presumably it made the English think better of themselves than the reality of a Dutch occupation). Clarendon is at it in 1704:
Many of these excluded Members [those excluded by the Restoration of Charles II] ‥. forbore coming any more to the House for many years; some, not before the Revolution.
Somewhere in all that the world was indeed turned politically upsidedown, by the Civil War, by the Restoration, by 1688 … then by the recognition that the Americans were being revolting: there is a prescient comment by a columnist in the Gentleman’s and London Magazine of November 1766, that
I doubt they [the American colonies] border on open rebellion; and ‥. I fear they will lose that name to take that of revolution.
Somewhere in this “great chain”, the notion of revolution as a great personal, social and political change becomes embedded in the fibre of the language and thinking of the English. No surprise, then, that they put the image on pub-signs.
When comes the next one?
Alex Glasgow had the idea in Close the Coalhouse Door:
We’ll shoot the aristocracy,
And confiscate their brass.
Create our own democracy,
Thats truly workin’ class
As soon as this Pub closes,
As soon as this Pub closes,
As soon as this Pub Closes,
We’ll raise the banner high.
Pubs are closing across the country at a rate of six, seven or eight every day. The next revolution must be about due.