About the Author
Date of Birth:October 31, 1959
Place of Birth:Fort Meade, Maryland
Education:B.A., Boston University, 1981
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OdalisqueThe Baroque Cycle #3
By Neal Stephenson
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Neal Stephenson
All right reserved.
Like a horseman who reins in a wild stallion that has borne him, will he, nill he, across several counties; or a ship's captain who, after scudding before a gale through a bad night, hoists sail, and gets underway once more, navigating through unfamiliar seas -- thus Dr. Daniel Waterhouse, anno domini 1685, watching King Charles II die at Whitehall Palace.
Much had happened in the previous twelve years, but nothing was really different. Daniel's world had been like a piece of caoutchouc that stretched but did not rupture, and never changed its true shape. After he'd gotten his Doctorate, there'd been nothing for him at Cambridge save lecturing to empty rooms, tutoring dull courtiers' sons, and watching Isaac recede further into the murk, pursuing his quest for the Philosophic Mercury and his occult studies of the Book of Revelation and the Temple of Solomon. So Daniel had moved to London, where events went by him like musket-balls.
John Comstock's ruin, his moving out of his house, and his withdrawal from the Presidency of the Royal Society had seemed epochal at the time. Yet within weeks Thomas More Anglesey had not only beenelected President of the Royal Society but also bought and moved into Comstock's house -- the finest in London, royal palaces included. The upright, conservative arch-Anglican had been replaced with a florid Papist, but nothing was really different -- which taught Daniel that the world was full of powerful men but as long as they played the same roles, they were as interchangeable as second-rate players speaking the same lines in the same theatre on different nights.
All of the things that had been seeded in 1672 and 1673 had spent the next dozen years growing up into trees: some noble and well-formed, some curiously gnarled, and some struck down by lightning. Knott Bolstrood had died in exile. His son Gomer now lived in Holland. Other Bolstroods had gone over the sea to New England. This was all because Knott had attempted to indict Nell Gwyn as a prostitute in 1679, which had seemed sensational at the time. The older King Charles II had grown, the more frightened London had become of a return to Popery when his brother James ascended to the throne, and the more the King had needed to keep a nasty bleak Protestant -- a Bolstrood -- around to reassure them. But the more power Bolstrood acquired, the more he was able to whip people up against the Duke of York and Popery. Late in 1678, they'd gotten so whipped up that they'd commenced hanging Catholics for being part of a supposed Popish Plot. When they'd begun running low on Catholics, they had hanged Protestants for doubting that such a Plot existed.
By this point Anglesey's sons Louis, the Earl of Upnor, and Philip, Count Sheerness, had gambled away most of the family's capital anyway, and had little to lose except their creditors, so they had fled to France. Roger Comstock -- who had been ennobled, and was now the Marquis of Ravenscar -- had bought Anglesey (formerly Comstock) House. Instead of moving in, he had torn it down, plowed its gardens under, and begun turning it into "the finest piazza in Europe." But this was merely Waterhouse Square done bigger and better. Raleigh had died in 1678, but Sterling had stepped into his place just as easily as Anglesey had stepped into John Comstock's, and he and the Marquis of Ravenscar had set about doing the same old things with more capital and fewer mistakes.
The King had dissolved Parliament so that it could not murder any more of his Catholic friends, and had sent James off to the Spanish Netherlands on the "out of sight, out of mind" principle, and, for good measure, had gotten James's daughter Mary wedded to the Protestant Defender himself: William of Orange. And in case none of that sufficed, the Duke of Monmouth (who was Protestant) had been encouraged to parade around the country, tantalizing England with the possibility that he might be de-bastardized through some genealogical sleight-of-hand, and become heir to the throne.
King Charles II could still dazzle, entertain, and confuse, in other words. But his alchemical researches beneath the Privy Gallery had come to naught; he could not make gold out of lead. And he could not levy taxes without a Parliament. The surviving goldsmiths in Threadneedle Street, and Sir Richard Apthorp in his new Bank, had been in no mood to lend him anything. Louis XIV had given Charles a lot of gold, but in the end the Sun King turned out to be no different from any other exasperated rich in-law: he had begun finding ways to make Charles suffer in lieu of paying interest. So the King had been forced to convene Parliament. When he had, he had found that it was controlled by a City of London/friends of Bolstrood alliance (Foes of Arbitrary Government, as they styled themselves) and that the first item on their list had been, not to raise taxes, but rather to exclude James (and every other Catholic) from the throne. This Parliament had instantly become so unpopular with those who loved the King that the whole assembly -- wigs, wool-sacks, and all -- had had to move up to Oxford to be safe from London mobs whipped up by Sir Roger L'Estrange -- who'd given up trying to suppress others' libels, and begun printing up his own. Safe (or so they imagined) at Oxford, these Whigs (as L'Estrange libelled them) had voted for Exclusion, and cheered for Knott Bolstrood as he proclaimed Nellie a whore.
A crier marching up Piccadilly had related this news to Daniel as he and Robert Hooke had stood in what had once been Comstock's and then Anglesey's ballroom and was by that point a field of Italian marble rubble open to a fine blue October sky. As a work table they had been using the capital of a Corinthian column that had plunged to earth when . . .
Excerpted from Odalisque by Neal Stephenson Copyright © 2006 by Neal Stephenson. Excerpted by permission.
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