Shell Games

written February 2015


Shell Games

Not many know this:

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s heart, the slippery, pulsing piece of warm meat that propelled its perfumed, armored outer shell into leading the famous Scottish insurrection, now resides in a cathedral in Frascati, Italy.

It happens to be in Italy and not Scotland because in 1746 the shell that was Bonnie Prince Charlie did not have enough playing pieces to match up against the stacked deck of England. Charlie believed it was better to own than rent, which is a popular sentiment. Thanks in large part to the shell also known as Charles Stuart, or the Young Pretender, many other less-perfumed Scottish hearts also stopped beating that same year; at least these rented shells were lucky enough to fall on their lawn, and not in Italy.

Game over. Poof.

Not a few English shells cracked as well, in 1746, amid their estranged northern cousins, falling like wet sacks amid mammals they could not otherwise be in close proximity to. The cracked English shells’ prize for playing was removal to their own lawn— whether they now knew it or not— unlike the Frascati fate of the Bonnie Prince.

Poof. Poof. Poof.

The royal heart would pulse for many more years, but forever after on other people’s dirt, far from his own dirt. The morning of the prince’s eviction from Britain, as he stood, bewildered, on the deck of the HMS Harmony and took in his last glimpses of the hazy island lands he had sought to lord over, he wrote:

All the world’s a painted platter
Ne’er yet slipped nor splattered.
Tis the Ruler’s grasp, future and past,
Holding sure the nation’s silver.
What would chance, at last,
E’re, the Chosen hand, off cast?
Be gone, a flutter, thy paternal pillar—
A missing mirror—
Of our loving Lord’s own goodly grasp,
As tis the task of ev’ry faire ruler?
Like this ship, without a rudder—
Heav’n forbid such a shatter or shudder!
To imagine such a racket—
The flipping of moon and planet,
And the sinking of each and every navy.
The stars would float in the soup,
And the hills’d be topped with gravy!

   *    *    *    *     *

The End of Everything

Charles Stuart’s wistful ode to cosmic sovereignty was never officially titled. It would be the only stroke of creativity he would exhibit in his life, other than attempting to claim the English throne. On his deathbed in 1788, in Rome, a former lover from Prussia who was taken with the poem asked what he called it.

“The end of everything,” he whispered to the ceiling. His heart suddenly gave out at the memory.

Pop! Poof. On to Frascati.

Just because its author declined to name his sole artistic attempt does not mean it does not have one. In fact, it has several names.

One is “What Hath John Bull Wrought.” That was its title according to the rebellious Jacobite Scots, that were all-in-all pleased with the attempt made, if not the final score. The English meanwhile labeled it “Poor Charlie’s Last Lament at Sea.” Yet another is “Leave Well Enough Alone,” by a small number of Scots and English alike who didn’t see the point to it all, as well as some relatives of deceased shells.

“Leave Well Enough Alone” is by far the least popular title.

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