When literature revived, the same kind of pleasure which had just before been given by a pedantic vocabulary, was produced by classical allusions, and imitations of ancient, or of Italian writers. The language then improved so suddenly, that it changed more in the course of one generation than it had done in the two preceding centuries; Elizabeth, who grew up while it was comparatively barbarous, lived to see it made capable of giving adequate expression to the loftiest conceptions of human imagination. Poets were then, perhaps, more abundant than they have been in any subsequent age until the present: and, as a necessary consequence of that abundance, all tricks of style were tried, and all fantasticalities of conceit abounded; they who were poets by imitative desire or endeavour, putting forth their strength in artificial and ambitious efforts, while the true poets held the true course, . . though the best of them did not always escape from what had thus been made the vice of their age.
The circumstances, therefore, of low breeding and defective education were so unfavourable, that the first person who, in a certain degree overcame them, obtained great notoriety, and no inconsiderable share of patronage. This was John Taylor, the Water-Poet, a man who has long been more known by name than by his writings. He was born in Gloucestershire, but at what place none of his biographers have stated in their scanty notices, nor has he himself mentioned in the volume entitled, "All the Works of John Taylor, the Water-Poet, being sixty-three in number, collected into one Volume by the Author, with sundry new Additions, corrected, revised, and newly imprinted, 1630." The book, though in height that of a modern quarto, would be catalogued among folios, for its shape; it is in fact neither, but of a nondescript size which may be called sexto, the sheet being folded into six leaves. It contains something more than 600 pages, in three series of paging, more than two-thirds consisting of verse closely printed and in double columns. Taylor lived twenty-four years after the publication of this volume, and published a great deal more; and though in this collection, (which is all that I have had opportunity of perusing,) there is some ribaldry and more rubbish, there is, nevertheless, so much which repays the search, that I wish the remainder of his works had been in like manner collected.
Young Taylor had an odd schoolmaster, upon whom some of his neighbours played a scurvy jest; the poor man was fond of new milk, and went to market for the purpose of buying a milch cow; but being short-sighted, and perhaps in other respects better qualified to deal with books than men, the seller, in sport it may be believed rather than roguery, sold him a bull, . . which poor "Master Green, being thus overseen," drove contentedly home, and did not discover the trick till he had called the maid to milk it. What happened to the pail in consequence called forth a memorial in four lines from his pupil, which was probably John's first attempt in verse. In other respects he was by his own account no very hopeful scholar: in that part of the poem called Taylor's Motto, which he entitles, "My Serious Cares and Considerations," he says—
I was well entered, forty winters since,
As far as possum in my accidence;
And reading but from possum to posset,
There I was mired and could no further get,
Which when I think upon with mind dejected,
I care to think how learning I neglected.
Having thus stuck fast in the thorns and brambles of the Latin grammar, he was taken from school and bound apprentice to a Thames waterman, perhaps as soon as he could handle an oar. The occupation is likely to have been his own choice, for it was well suited to his bold, hardy, and at that time, idle disposition in those days, too, it was a thriving one, and gave employment to more men than any other trade or calling in the metropolis. Taylor, indeed, says, that "the number of watermen and those that lived and were maintained by them, and by the only labour of the oar and scull, betwixt the bridge of Windsor and Gravesend, could not be fewer than forty thousand." There may be some exaggeration in this; but when this assertion was made, the company was overstocked with hands, the circumstances which had occasioned its great growth and prosperity having changed. The first cause of its decline was the long peace which this country enjoyed under James I.: the Thames had been in time of war the great nursery for the navy; the watermen were "at continual demand" for the Queen's service, "as in duty bound," and good service they had done in all Elizabeth's wars. "Every summer 1500 or 2000 of them were employed" in her ships, "having but nine shillings and four-pence the month, apiece, for their pay; and yet they were able then to set themselves out like men, with shift of apparel, linen and woollen, and forbear charging of their prince for their pay, sometimes six months, nine months, twelve months, sometimes more; for then there were so few watermen, and the one half of them being at sea, those that staid at home had as much work as they would do." To their good fortune, also, for a while, the players at that time "began to play on the Bankside (Southwark) and to leave playing in London and Middlesex, for the most part." There were three companies playing there at once, "besides the bear-baiting;" and "then there went such great concourse of people by water, that the small number of watermen remaining at home were not able to carry them, by reason of the court, the terms, the players, and other employments; so that they were enforced and encouraged (hoping that this golden stirring world would have lasted ever) to take and entertain men and boys." Owing to this establishment of the three theatres on the Bankside, the company of watermen was increased more than half. But peace came, and the men who had been employed at sea returned to their old trade upon the river; and as misfortunes seldom come singly, (for a misfortune to the watermen peace was,) two of the three sets of players removed from the Surrey side to the Middlesex one, and there played "far remote from the Thames, so that every day in the week they drew unto them 3000 or 4000 people that were used to spend their monies by water." This reduced the watermen to great distress, and in 1613 they petitioned the King that the players might not be allowed to have a playhouse in London, nor within four miles of it, on that side the river; "the reasons that moved us unto it," says Taylor, "being charitably considered, make the suit seem not only reasonable, but past seeming most necessary to be sued for, and tolerable to be granted." He was selected by the company to deliver the petition and follow the business, which he did at the cost of seven pounds two shillings, for "horse-hire, horse-meat, and man's meat, expended in two journies to Theobalds, one to Newmarket, and two to Royston," before he could get the petition referred to the commissioners for suits. A counter-petition was presented by his Majesty's players, who said, that the watermen might just as reasonably propose to remove the Exchange, the walks in St. Paul's, or Moorfields, to the Bankside, for their own profit, as to confine them to it; "but our extremities and cause," says Taylor, "being judiciously pondered by the honourable and worshipful commissioners, Sir Francis Bacon very worthily said, that so far forth as the public weal was to be regarded before pastimes, or a serviceable, decaying multitude before a handful of particular men, or profit before pleasure, so far was our suit to be preferred before their's." A day was appointed for determining the business; but before it came, the chief commissioner, Sir Julius Caesar, was made Master of the Rolls, by which means the commission was dissolved, and the case never came to a farther hearing. Had it proceeded, another proof would probably have been given, notwithstanding Bacon's opinion, that the convenience of the great public when opposed to any part of that public, must ultimately prevail, even though the convenience gained should be trifling, and the injury sustained by the minor part of the most serious nature. Within our own memory, shoe-strings have prevailed over buckles in despite of ridicule, and covered buttons over metal ones in defiance of pains and penalties, in each case to the great detriment of what had been a flourishing branch of our manufactures. But the watermen were unreasonable in requiring that the Londoners, in that best age of the English drama, should, whenever they went to the play, be put to the discomfort and charged with the expense of crossing and recrossing the water; and that the players should be confined to the Bankside, where bad weather must so materially have affected their receipts.
Taylor complains in another of his pamphlets, that he and "many thousands more were much impoverished and hindered of their livings" by the proclamations which from time to time were issued, requiring the gentry to retire from the capital into their own countries. In certain despotic governments the sovereigns are said to have pursued the evil policy of keeping their nobles about the court, for the purpose of lessening their influence in the provinces, and rendering them dependent upon court favour and state employments, by involving them in habitual expenses beyond what their patrimonial revenues could support. No such erroneous views either of their own or the public interest were entertained by the kings of England; but this opposite policy, which required the landed proprietors to reside during the greater part of the year upon their own estates, seems, like the acts that were enforced against new buildings about London, to have originated in a prudent desire of keeping down both the size and population of the metropolis, because of the plague, visitations of which were then so frequent and so dreadful. This deprived the watermen of good part of their employ; and Taylor complains that his "poor trade," which had already suffered so much, was undone when hackney coaches came into use. The decay of what had once been a thriving occupation allowed him to engage in adventures which he might have been too wise to have undertaken if his fortune had been more prosperous.
But before this unfavourable change in his circumstances was felt, he had become known as the Water-Poet. His own account of the manner in which he took to the rhyming trade, may be understood to mean, that he was led to it by an imitative impulse, to his own surprise, and not very early in life.
I that in quiet, in the days of yore,
Did get my living at the healthful oar,
And with content did live, and sweat, and row,
Where, like the tide, my purse did ebb and flow;
My fare was good, I thank my bounteous Fares,
And pleasure made me careless of my cares.
The watry element most plentiful,
Supplied me daily with the oar and scull;
And what the water yielded, I with mirth
Did spend upon the element of earth.
Until at length a strange poetic vein,
As strange a way possest my working brain:
It chanced one evening on a reedy bank,
The Muses sat together in a rank,
Whilst in my boat I did by water wander,
Repeating lines of Hero and Leander.
The triple Three took great delight in that,
Call'd me ashore, and caused me sit and chat,
And in the end, when all our talk was done,
They gave to me a draught of Helicon,
Which proved to me a blessing and a curse,
To fill my pate with verse, and empt my purse.
These lines seem also to confess, that though he "left no calling for this idle trade," he had in some degree neglected one. It is, indeed, apparent, that he was a boon companion, neither unconscious of the wit and ready talents which he possessed, nor diffident of them; and though in his grammatical studies he had stuck at "posset," he had been in a very good school for improving the sort of ability with which Nature had endowed him. Even as late as Dr. Johnson's days, a license of wit (if wit it may be called) was allowed to all persons upon the river, which would not have been tolerated any where else. Fluency in this sort of speech he could not choose but learn; and his vocation also brought him into conversation with persons of all descriptions, the best as well as the worst, especially when the theatres were on the Bankside. Moreover, he was not a mere freshwater sailor; he had seen service enough to have entitled him to call himself an old seaman, if that denomination had in those days sounded more respectably than his own; for he had made no fewer that sixteen voyages in the Queen's ships and was in the expeditions under Essex at Cadiz and the Azores. And no other occupation could have offered him such opportunities for reading a invited him in the intervals of chance leisure, even on his busiest days; in fact, he was a diligent reader; and although it was because of his low birth, low station, and want of regular education that he obtained notice at first for his production there are many in these days who set up, not alone for simple authors in prose or rhyme, but as critics by profession, upon a much smaller stock of book-knowledge than Taylor the Water-Poet had laid in. Hear his account of his own studies!
I care to get good books, and I take heed
And care what I do either write or read;
Though some through ignorance, and some through spite,
Have said that I can neither read nor write.
But though my lines no scholarship proclaim,
Yet I at learning have a kind of aim;
And I have gathered much good observations,
From many human and Divine translations....
The Poet Quid, (or Ovid if you will,)
Being in English, much hath helpt my skill.
And Homer too, and Virgil I have seen,
And reading them I have much bettered been.
Godfrey of Bulloyne, well by Fairfax done;
Du Bartas, that much love hath rightly won;
Old Chaucer, Sidney, Spenser, Daniel, Nash,—
I dipt my finger where they used to wash.
As I have read these poets I have noted
Much good, which in my memory is quoted.
Of histories I have perused some store,
As no man of my function hath done more.
The Golden Legend I did overtoss,
And found the gold mixt with a deal of dross.
I have read Plutarch's Morals and his Lives,
And like a bee suckt honey from those hives.
Josephus of the Jews, Knowles of the Turks,
Marcus Aurelius, and Guevara's works;
Lloyd, Grimstone, Montaigne, and Suetonius,
Agrippa, whom some call Cornelius,
Grave Seneca and Cambden, Purchas, Speed,
Old monumental Fox and Holinshed;
And that sole Book of Books which God hath given,
The blest eternal Testaments of Heaven,
That I have read, and I with care confess,
Myself unworthy of such happiness.
The subject of his reading is one which he was evidently pleased with referring to, though he took care to ground his best claims for indulgence upon his "natural art." Wherefore, he says,—
—do I take a scholar's part,
That have no ground or axioms of art;
That am in poesy an artless creature,
That have no learning but the Book of Nature,
No academical poetic strains,
But homespun medley of my motley brains.
The first person who patronised him he addresses as "the Right Worshipful and my ever respected Mr. John Moray, Esquire:" — probably, the same "Mr. John Murray, of the bedchamber to the king," whom Bacon calls his very good friend. Taylor has addressed this sonnet to him, and prefixed it to the earliest of his multifarious productions:
Of all the wonders this vile world includes,
I muse how flattery such high favours gain;
How adulation cunningly deludes
Both high and low, from sceptre to the swain.
But if that thou by flattery couldst obtain
More than the most that is possest by men,
Thou canst not tune thy tongue to falsehood's strain
Yet with the best canst use both tongue and pen.
Thy sacred learning can both scan and ken
The hidden things of Nature and of Art.
'Tis thou hast raised me from Oblivion's den,
And made my muse from obscure sleep to start.
Unto thy wisdom's censure I commit
This first-born issue of my worthless wit.
This first-born had an odd name; he called it, in Tayloric style, "Taylor's Water-Work; or the Sculler's Travels from Tyber to Thames; with his boat laden with a Hotch-potch, or gallimaufrey of Sonnets, Satires, and Epigrams. With an inkhorn disputation betwixt a Lawyer and a Poet; and a quarterne of new catched Epigrams, caught the last fishing-tide; together with an addition of Pastoral Equivoques, or the Complaint of a Shepherd. Dedicated to neither Monarch nor Miser, Keaser nor Caitiff, Palatine nor Plebeian, but to great Mounsier Multitude, alias All, or Every One."
The manner in which he published his books, which were separately of little bulk, was to print them at his own cost, make presents of them, and then hope for "sweet remuneration" from the persons whom he had thus delighted to honour. This mode of publication was not regarded in those days so close akin to mendicity as it would now be deemed; pecuniary gifts of trifling amount being then given and accepted, where it would now be deemed an insult to offer and a disgrace to receive them. The method, however, did not always answer, and Taylor complains to this effect, though rather for others than for himself. He says,—
Yet to excuse the writers that now write,
Because they bring no better things to light,
'Tis because Bounty from the world has fled;
True Liberality is almost dead:
Reward is lodged in dark oblivion deep,
Bewitch'd, I think, into an endless sleep;
That though a man in study take great pains,
And empt his veins and pulverize his brains,
To write a poem well, which being writ
With all his judgement, reason, art, and wit,
He at his own charge print, and pay for all,
And give away most free and liberal,
Two, three, or four, or five hundred books,
For his reward he shall have — nods and looks;
That all the profit a man's pains shall get,
Will not suffice one meal to feed a cat.
Yet noble Westminster, thou still art free,
And for thy bounty I am bound to thee;
For hadst not thou and thy inhabitants,
From time to time, relieved and help'd my wants,
I had long since bid poetry adieu;
And therefore still my thanks shall be to you.
Next to the Court in general, I am bound
To you, for many friendships I have found.
There, when my purse bath often wanted bait
To fill or feed it, I have had receit.
Ben Jonson is one of the persons to whom he declares himself "much obliged for many undeserved courtesies received from him, and from others by his favour." And in a Dedication to Charles I. he says, "My gracious Sovereign, your Majesty's poor undeserved servant, having formerly oftentimes presented to your Highness many such pamphlets, the best fruits of my lean and steril invention, always your princely affability and bounty did express and manifest your royal and generous disposition; and your gracious father, of ever-blessed and famous memory, did not only like and encourage, but also more than reward the barren gleanings of my poetical inventions." His Funeral Elegy, which he calls "A Living Sadness, duly consecrated to the Immortal Memory" of this "all-beloved sovereign Lord, the Peerless Paragon of Princes," concludes with these lines, addressed to all who read the poem.
I boast not; but his Majesty that's dead
Was many times well pleased my lines to read,
And every line, word, syllable, and letter,
Were by his reading graced and made better;
And howsoever they were, good or ill,
His bounty showed he did accept them still.
He was so good and gracious unto me,
That I the vilest wretch on earth should be,
If for his sake I had not writ this verse,
My last poor duty to his royal hearse.
Two causes made rue this sad poem write;
The first my humble duty did invite,
The last, to shun that vice which doth include
All other vices, foul ingratitude.
The Earl of Holdernsse was one of his good patrons, and moved King James to bestow a place upon him. What this place was does not appear in his writings, nor have his biographers stated: one office, which must have been much to his liking, he held at the Tower, by appointment of Sir William Wade; it was that of receiving for the lieutenant his perquisite of "two black leathern bottles or bombards of wine," (being in quantity six gallons,) from every ship that brought wine into the river Thames, a custom which had continued at that time more than 800 years. This was a prosperous part of Taylor's life, and if he did not write like Homer in those days, it was not for any failure in drinking like Agamemnon. He says—
Ten years almost the place I did retain,
And gleaned great Bacchus' blood from France and Spain;
Few ships my visitation did escape,
That brought the sprightful liquor of the grape:
My bottles and myself did oft agree,
Full to the top, all merry came we three!
Yet always 'twas my chance, in Bacchus' spite,
To come into the Tower unfox'd, upright.
But the spirit of reform was abroad: the merchants complained that the bottles were made bigger than they used to be, and "waged law" with the lieutenant; and had it not been for the Wine-Poet's exertions, in finding and bringing into court those witnesses, who could swear to the size of the bottles for fifty years, they would have carried their cause. Poor Taylor was ill-rewarded for his services; no sooner had he established the right, than the office which he had held was put to sale, and he was discharged because he would not buy it. "I would not," he says, "or durst not, venture upon so unhonest a novelty, it being sold indeed at so high a rate, that whoso bought it must pay thrice the value of it."
O bottles, bottles, bottles, bottles, bottles!
Plato's divine works, nor great Aristotle's,
Did ne'er make mention, that a gift so royal
Was ever bought and sold!
He alludes to a loss of a different kind, in his Navy of Ships and other vessels that have the art to sail by land as well as by sea," the names of these vessels being the Lord-ship, the Scholarship, the Lady-ship, the Goodfellow-ship, the Apprentice-ship, the Court-ship, the Friend-ship, the Fellow-ship, the Footman-ship, the Horsemanship, the Surety-ship, the Wor-ship, and the Woodman-ship. In this tract there is some wholesome satire, and abundance of wit. The ship which he had been unlucky enough to embark in in this fleet, was the Surety-ship, of which he says, "she is so easy to be boarded, that a man need not trouble his feet to enter her, or use any boat to come to her, — only a dash with a pen, the writing of a man's name, passing his word, or setting his mark (though it be but the form of a pair of pot-hooks, a cross, a crooked billet, or a "M" for John Thompson,) any of these facile ways hath shipt a man into the Surety-ship during his life, and his heirs after him; and though the entrance into her be so easy, yet she is so full of impertinent and needy courtesy, that many men will lend a hand into her, with more fair intreaties, requests, and invitations, than are commonly used to a mask at the court, or a groce of gossips in the country; and being once entered, a tenpenny nail, driven to the head, may as soon scape out of an oaken post, as a man may get ashore again. She is painted on the outside with vows and promises; and within her are the stories of the tattered Prodigal, eating husks with the swine, the picture of Niobe, with Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera, dancing lacrymae; her arms are a goose-quill or pen couchant, in a sheep-skin field sable; the motto above, 'Noverint universi;' the supporters, an usurer and a scrivener; the crest, a woodcock; the mantles, red wax, with this other motto beneath, sealed and delivered. This ship bath the art to make parchment the dearest stuff in the world; for I have seen a piece little bigger than my two hands that hath cost a man a thousand pounds. I myself paid a hundred pounds once for a small rotten remnant of it. She is rigged most strangely; her ropes and cables are conditions and obligations; her anchors are leases forfeited; her lead and line are mortgages; her main-sails are interchangeable indentures; and her top-sails, bills and bonds; her small shot are arrests and actions; her great ordnance are extents, outlawries, and executions."
Taylor's productions would not have been so numerous if he had not gained something by them. If any celebrated person died, he was ready with an elegy, and this sort of tribute always obtained the acknowledgment in expectation of which it was offered. But it is evident, that he delighted in acquiring knowledge, and took pleasure in composition for its own sake, as in the exercise of a talent which he was proud to possess. His Memorial of all the English monarchs, from Brute to King Charles, was probably composed as much for this motive as to impress upon his own memory the leading facts of English history; then a set of miserable portraits cut in wood, without the shadow of resemblance till we come to bluff King Henry VIII., fitted it for popular and perhaps for profitable sale. It is, probably, from this bald and meagre chronicle in rhyme, which, for the subject, is likely to have been more common than any other of his tracts, that the commonly expressed opinion of his writings has been drawn, as if they were wholly worthless, and not above the pitch of a bellman's verses. But a more injurious opinion has seldom been formed; for Taylor had always words at will, and wit also when the subject admitted of its display. His account of the Books in the Old and New Testament, is in the same creeping strain. The best specimen of his historical verses is entitled God's Manifold Mercies in the Miraculous Deliverance of our Church of England, from the year 1565 until this present 1630, particularly and briefly described. This is in a series of what some late writers have conveniently called quatorzains, to distinguish them from sonnets of proper structure: they are introduced thus:—
There was a Bull in Rome was long a breeding,
Which Bull proved little better than a Calf;
Was sent to England for some better feeding,
To fatten in his Holiness' behalf.
The virtues that this Beast of Babel had
In thundering manner was to bann and curse;
Rail at the Queen as it were raging mad;
Yet, God be thanked, she was ne'er the worse.
The goodly sire of it was impious Pius;
He taught it learnedly to curse and bann;
And to our faces boldly to defy us
It madly over England quickly ran.
But what success it had, read more and see,
The fruits of it here-underwitten be.
"This bull did excommunicate and curse the queen; it deposed her from her crown; it proclaimed her an heretic; it cursed all such as loved her; it threatened damnation to all subjects as durst obey her; and it promised the kingdom of heaven to those that would oppose and kill her."
He goes through the series of treasons which the bull produced, down to the Gunpowder-plot, and concludes with this Thanksgiving.
And last of all, with heart and hands erected,
Thy Church doth magnify thy name,
O Lord! Thy Providence preserved, thy Power protected
Thy planted Vine, according to thy word.
My God! what shall I render unto Thee,
For all thy gifts bestowed on me always?
Love and unfeigned thankfulness shall be
Ascribed for thy mercies, all my days.
To Thee, my Priest, my Prophet, and my King,
My Love, my Counsellor and Comforter,
To Thee alone, I only praises sing,
For only Thou art my Deliverer.
All honour, glory, power, and praise, therefore,
Ascribed be to Thee for evermore.
These are no mean verses. Indeed, in every General Collection of the British Poets there are authors to be found, whose pretensions to a place there are much feebler than what might be advanced on behalf of Taylor the Water Poet. Sometimes he has imitated the strongly-marked manner of Josuah Silvester: sometimes, George Wither's pedestrian strain; in admiring imitation of which latter poet, (and not with any hostile or envious feeling, as has somewhere been erroneously stated,) he composed a piece which he called Taylor's Motto, — the Motto, (which is his only opposition to Wither) being, "Et habeo, et careo, et curo." There is in Wither, when in his saner mind and better mood, a felicity of expression, a tenderness of feeling, and an elevation of mind, far above the Water Poet's pitch; nevertheless, Taylor's Motto is lively, curious, and characteristic, as well of the age as of the writer. It contains about fourteen hundred lines; and he tells us,
This book was written (not that here I boast),
Put hours together, in three days at most
And give me but my breakfast, I'll maintain
To write another ere I eat again;
But well, or ill, or howsoe'er it's penn'd,
Like it as you list; and so, I make an
He has imitated Chaucer in a catalogue of birds, which though mostly a mere catalogue, has some sweet lines in it: and in other places he enumerates the names of rivers, the variety of diseases, and, more curiously and at greater length, the different trades and callings which were exercised in his days. Like poor Falconer, he made use also of his nautical vocabulary in verse.
You brave Neptunians, you saltwater crew,
Sea-ploughing mariners, I speak to you:
From hemp you for yourselves and others gain
Your spritsail, foresail, topsail, and your main,
Top, and top-gallant, and your mizen abaft,
Your coursers, bonnets, drablers, fore and aft,
The sheets, tacks, boliens, braces, halliers, tyes,
Shrouds, ratlings, lanyards, tackles, lifts, and gies,
Your martlines, ropeyarns, gaskets, and your stays,
These for your use, small hemp-seed up doth raise:
The buoy-rope, boat-rope, quest-rope, cat-rope, portrope,
The bucket-rope, the boat-rope, long or short rope,
The entering-rope, the top-rope, and the rest,
Which you that are acquainted with know best:
The lines to sound within what depth you slide,
Cables and hausers, by which ships do ride:
All these, and many more than I can name,
From this small seed, good industry doth frame.
Ships, barks, hoys, drumlers, craires, boats, all would sink,
But for the ocum caulk'd in every chink.
The unmatched loadstone, and best figured maps,
Might show where foreign countries are (perhaps)
The compass (being rightly toucht) will show
The thirty-two points where the winds do blow;
Men with the Jacob's staff; and Astrolobe
May take the height and circuit of the globe:
And sundry art-like instruments look clear
In what horizon, or what hemisphere
Men sail in through the raging ruthless deep,
And to what coast, such and such course to keep;
Guessing by the Arctic or Antarctic star,
Climates and countries being ne'er so far.
But what can these things be of price or worth,
To know degrees, heights, depths, east, west, south, north.
What are all these but shadows and vain hopes,
If ships do either want their sails or ropes?
And now ere I offend, I must confess
A little from my theme I will digress
Striving in verse to show a lively form
Of an impetuous gust or deadly storm.
Where, uncontrolled, Hyperborean blasts
Tears all to tatters, tacklings, sails, and masts
Where boisterous puffs of Eurus' breath did hiss,
And 'mongst our shrouds and cordage widely whiz;
Where thundering Jove, amidst lightning flashing,
Seem'd overwhelmed with Neptune's mountain dashing;
Where glorious Titan hid his burning light,
Turning his bright meridian to black night;
Where blustering Eole blew confounding breath,
And thunder's fearfull larum threatened death;
Where skies and seas, hail, wind, and slavering sleet,
As if they all at once had meant to meet
In fatal opposition, to expire
The world, and unto Chaos back retire.
Thus, while the Winds' and Sea's contending gods,
In rough robustious fury are at odds,
The beaten ship, tost like a forceless feather,
Now up, now down, and no man knowing whither:
The topmast some time tilting at the moon,
And being up doth fall again as soon,
With such precipitating low descent,
As if to hell's black kingdom down she went.
Poor ship that rudder on no steerage feels,
Sober, yet worse than any drunkard reels,
Unmanaged, guideless, too and fro she wallows,
Which (seemingly) the angry billows swallows.
'Midst darkness, lightning, thunder, sleet, and rain,
Remorseless winds and mercy-wanting main,
Amazement, horror, dread from each man's face
Had chased away life's blood, and in the place
Was sad despair, with hair heaved up upright,
With ashy visage, and with sad affright,
As if grim death with his all-murdering dart,
Had aiming been at each man's bloodless heart.
Out cries the master, 'Lower the topsail, lower!'
Then up aloft runs scrambling three or four,
But yet for all their burly burly hast,
Ere they got up, down tumbles sail and mast.
'Veer the main-sheet there,' then the master cried,
'Let rise the fore-tack, on the larboard side:
Take in the fore-sail, yare, good fellows, yare,
Aluffe at helm there, — ware, no more, beware,
Steer south-south-east there, I say ware no more,
We are in danger of the leeward shore,
Clear your main-brace, let go the bolein there,
Port, port the helm hard, Romer, come no near.
Sound, sound, heave, heave the lead, what depth, what depth?'
'Fathom and a half, three all.'
Then with a whiff, the winds again do puff,
And then the master cries 'Aluff, aluff,
Make ready the anchor, ready the anchor, hoa,
Clear, clear the boigh-rope, steddy, well steer'd so;
Hale up the boat; in sprit-sail there afore,
Blow wind and burst, and then thou wilt give o'er.
Aluff, clap helm a-lee, yea, yea, done, done,
Down, down alow, into the hold quick run.
There's a plank sprung, something in hold did break,
Pump — bullies, — carpenters, quick stop the leak.
Once heave the lead again, and sound abaffe.'
'A shafnet less, seven all.'
Let fall the anchor then, let fall,
Man, man the boat, a woat hale, up hale,
Top your main yard a port, veer cable alow,
Go way a-head the boat there hoe, dee row,
Well pumpt, my hearts of gold, who says amends,
East and by south, west and by north she wends,
This was a weather with a witness here,
But now we see the skies begin to clear,
To dinner, hey, and let's at anchor ride,
Till wind grows gentler, and a smoother tide.'
"I think," he pursues in prose, "I have spoken Heathen Greek, Utopian, or Bermudian, to a great many of my readers in the description of this storm, but indeed I wrote it only for the understanding mariner's reading. I did it three years since, and could not find a better place than this to insert it, or else it must have lain in silence."
In this prose postscript Taylor alludes to some epitaphs in gibberish upon Tom Coryat the Odcombian, whose harmless eccentricities made him the butt of all wits and witlings, his contemporaries. Sometimes he amused himself with verses of grandiloquous nonsense, — not that kind of nonsense which passes for sense and sublimity with the poet himself, and is introduced as such to the admiration of the world by some literary master of the ceremonies; — but honest right rampant nonsense.
Think'st thou a wolf thrust through a sheepskin glove,
Can make me take this goblin for a lamb?
Or that a crocodile in barley-broth
Is not a dish to feast Don Belzebub?
Give me a medlar in a field of blue
Wrapt up stigmatically in a dream,
And I will send him to the gates of Dis,
To cause him fetch a sword of massy chalk
With which he won the fatal Theban field
From Rome's great mitred metropolitan.
Among his exhibitions of metre are some sonnets, as he calls them, composed upon one rhyme: one little piece in which all the lines rhyme upon Coriat, and another in which "crudities" is the keyword, — levelled against the same poor inoffensive humourist, who, ridiculous as he was, and liked to make himself, is nevertheless entitled to some respect for his enterprising spirit, his perseverance, and his acquirements; and to some compassion for his fate. It may be more worthy of notice, that Hudibrastic rhymes are to be found in the Water-Poet's works: there may be earlier specimens, and probably are, for Taylor possessed an imitative rather than inventive talent; but this is the earliest that I have seen.
Whether from this itch of imitation, or the love of adventure, or want of other employment, and the desire of gain, Taylor engaged at different times in expeditions which were characterised by some singularity, or some difficulty, and even danger. Such undertakings were not uncommon at that time. His "loving friend," Samuel Rowlands, in some verses addressed to him upon his, "Sculler's Travels from Tiber to Thames," enumerates some of those which had attracted most notice.
Ferris gave cause of vulgar wonderment,
When unto Bristow in a boat he went:
Another with his sculler ventured more,
That rowed to Flushing from our English shore:
Another did devise a wooden whale
Which unto Calais did from Dover sail:
Another with his oars and slender wherry
From London unto Antwerp o'er did ferry:
Another, maugre fickle fortune's teeth,
Rowed hence to Scotland and arrived at Leith.
These were all wagering adventures. The first which Taylor undertook (in the year 1616) he published an account of, with this title, "Taylor's Travels, three weeks, three days, and three hours' observations, from London to Hamburg, in Germany, amongst Jews and Gentiles; with descriptions of Towns and Towers, Castles and Citadels, artificial Gallowses and natural Hangmen, dedicated for the present to the absent Odcombian knight errant, Sir Thomas Coriat, Great Britain's Error, and the world's Mirror." He had a brother settled in a town which he calls Buckaburgh, in the earldom of Schomberg; and the motive for this journey was to visit him: but he thought it might be turned to some account also, by finding persons who would receive money from him, and pay him back a larger sum if he performed the specified journey, and returned from it. I have to thank him for the story of Roprecht the Robber, which I found in his account of this journey. It seems that he made a second to the same country, but there is only a bare intimation of this in the collected volume of his works. His third undertaking was to travel on foot from London to Edinburgh, "not carrying any money to or fro; neither begging, borrowing, or asking meat, drink, or lodging." This he performed in 1618, and published an account of it in verse and prose, entitled "The Pennyless Pilgrimage, or the Moneyless Perambulation of John Taylor, alias the King's Majesty's Water-Poet." "This journey," says he, "was undertaken, neither in imitation or emulation of any man, but only devised by myself, on purpose to make trial of my friends, both in this kingdom of England and that of Scotland, and because I would be an eye-witness of divers things which I had heard of that country. And whereas many shallow-brained critics do lay an aspersion on me that I was set on by others, or that I did undergo this project either in malice or mockery of Master Benjamin Jonson, I vow, by the faith of a Christian, that their imaginations are all wild; for he is a gentleman to whom I am so much obliged, for many undeserved courtesies that I have received from him, and from others by his favour, that I durst never to be so impudent or ingrateful, as either to suffer any man's persuasions, or mine own instigation, to make me to make so bad a requital for so much goodness."
The undertaking was no very arduous one, for he was at that time a well-known person: he counted (as appears by his own words) on his friends upon the road; he carried, in his tongue, a gift which, wherever he might be entertained, would be accepted as current payment for his entertainment; and moreover, he had his man to accompany him, and a sumpter-beast well victualled for the journey.
There in my knapsack to pay hungers fees,
I had good bacon, bisket, neat's tongue, cheese,
With roses, barberries, of each conserves,
And mithridate that vigorous health preserves;
And, I intreat you take these words for no lies,
I had good aquavita, rosasolies,
With sweet ambrosia, the gods' own drink,
Most excellent gear for mortals, as I think;
Besides I had both vinegar and oil.
Thus provided he set forth, baiting and lodging as he went with friend or acquaintance, or at the cost or invitation of good-natured strangers. He says—
I made my legs my oars, and rowed by land.
But he, and probably his man too, had been more used to ply their arms than their legs, for they were poor pedestrians; and had nearly foundered by the time they reached Daventry. It had been a wet and windy day, and meeting with something like Tom Drum's entertainment from the hostess of the Horse-shoe in that town, who had "a great wart rampant on her snout," they were fain
—to hobble seven miles more,
The way to Dunchurch, foul with dirt and mire,
Able, I think, both man and horse to tire
On Dunsmore-heath, a hedge doth then enclose
Grounds on the right-hand, there I did repose.
Wit's whetstone, Want, then made us quickly learn,
With knives to cut down rushes and green fern,
Of which we made a field-bed in the field;
Which sleep and rest and much content did yield.
There with my mother Earth I thought it fit
My bed was curtained with good wholesome airs,
And being weary, I went up no stairs;
The sky my canopy; bright Phoebe shin'd;
Sweet bawling Zephyrus breath'd gentle wind;
In heaven's star-chamber I did lodge that night,
Ten thousand stars me to my bed did light.
There barricadoed with a bank lay we,
Below the lofty branches of a tree.
There my bedfellows and companions were,
My man, my horse, a bull, four cows, two steer;
But yet for all this most confused rout,
We had no bed-staves, yet we fell not out.
Thus Nature, like an ancient free upholster,
Did furnish us with bedstead, bed, and bolster;
And the kind skies (for which high Heaven be thanked!)
Allowed us a large covering, and a blanket.
Proceeding the next day "through plashes, puddles, thick, thin, wet, and dry," he reached Coventry, and was there entertained two or three days by Dr. Holland, the once well-known Philemon, who used, in translation, more paper and fewer pens than any other writer before or since; and who "would not let Suetonius be Tranquillus." After leaving him, he was welcomed at Lichfield by an acquaintance, who offered him money also, which it was against the bond to accept, and supplied him with "good provant." The next day's was no pleasant journey.
That Wednesday I a weary way did pass,
Rain, wind, stones, dirt, and dabbling dewy grass,
With here and there a pelting scattered village,
Which yielded me no charity or pillage;
For all the day, nor yet the night that follow'd,
One drop of drink I am sure my gullet swallow'd.
At night I came to a stony town call'd Stone,
Where I knew none, nor was I known of none.
I therefore through the streets held on my pace,
Some two miles farther, to some resting place.
At last I spied a meadow newly mowed,
The hay was rotten, the ground half o'er-flowed:
We made a breach and entered, horse and man,
There our pavilion we to pitch began,
Which we erected with green broom and hay,
To expel the cold and keep the rain away;
The sky all muffled in a cloud 'gan lower,
And presently there fell a mighty shower,
Which without intermission down did pour
From ten at night until the morning's four.
We all this time close in our couch did lie,
Which being well compacted kept us dry.
Sir Urien Legh entertained him with right old hospitality at Adlington, near Macclesfield, from the Thursday-night till Monday-noon, — having him at his own table; though Taylor had not "shifted a shirt" since he left London. Sir Urien gave him a letter to his kinsman, Edmund Prestwitch, a good esquire, near Manchester; there he was lodged and fed, and shaved, and his horse (for the second time) shod; and for this gentleman's sake he was sumptuously entertained by the people of Manchester, Mr. Prestwitch sending a man and horse to guide him, and bear his expenses through the county. But his recommendation sufficed in lieu of all charges at Manchester: the kindness which he there experienced, Taylor thus relates:—
Their loves they on the tenter-hooks did rack,
Roast, boiled, baked, too-too-much, white, claret, sack;
Nothing they thought too heavy, or too hot,
Cann followed cann, and pot succeeded pot.
Thus what they could do, all they thought too little,
Striving in love the traveller to whittle.
We went into the house of one John Pinners,
(A man that lives amongst a crew of sinners,)
And there eight several sorts of ale we had,
All able to make one stark drunk, or mad.
But I with courage bravely flinched not,
And gave the town leave to discharge the shot.
We had at one time set upon the table,
Good ale of Hyssop (twas no Esop-fable):
Then had we ale of Sage, and ale of Malt,
And ale of Wormwood that could make one halt;
With ale of Rosemary, and of Bettony,
And two ales more, or else I needs must lie.
But to conclude this drinking aley tale,
We had a sort of ale called Scurvy ale.
Thus all these men at their own charge and cost
Did strive whose love should be expressed most;
And farther to declare their boundless loves,
They saw I wanted, and they gave me, gloves.
The hostess, also, of the Eagle and Child, had his shirts and bands washed, and gave him twelve silk points. The same recommendation procured him a good reception at Preston, where he tarried three days, and protests that he never saw a town more wisely governed by the law. "Kind Master Thomas Banister," the mayor, spent much cost and charge upon him, and rode with him at his departure two miles on his way.
There by good chance I did more friendship get,
The under-shriefe of Lancashire we met,
A gentleman that loved and knew me well,
And one whose bounteous mind doth bear the bell.
There, as if I had been a noted thief,
The Mayor delivered me unto the Shriefe;
The Shriefe's authority did much prevail,
He sent me unto one that kept the jail.
Thus I, perambulating poor John Taylor,
Was given from Mayor to Shriefe, from Shriefe to Jailor.
The Jailor kept an inn, good beds, good cheer,
Where, paying nothing, I found nothing dear,
For the under-shriefe, kind Master Covill named,
(A man for house-keeping renowned and famed,)
Did cause the town of Lancaster afford
Me welcome, as if I had been a lord.
Master Covill sent a man with him to Sedbergh, which was two days' journey, and they scarcely missed an alehouse on the way, so liberal was the guide of his master's money. The next stage was to Master Edmund Branthwaite's, at Carling Hill. Branthwaite escorted him to Orton, where Master Corney, "a good true divine," was his host; and Master Corney sent a man with him "o'er dale and down, who lodged and boarded him at Peereth (Penrith) town." There he found a volunteer guide for Carlisle; but two miles wide of that city Sir John Dalstone entertained him. One might have hoped in these parts for a happy meeting between John Taylor and Barnabee, of immortal memory; indeed, it is likely that the Water-Poet and the Anti-Water-Poet were acquainted, and that the latter may have introduced him to his connections hereabout, Branthwaite being the same name as Brathwait, and Barnabee's brother having married a daughter of this Sir John Dalstone. He makes his acknowledgments also to Sir Henry Curwen, for good offices at Carlisle. Adam Robinson, who had been mayor of that city the preceding year, provided him with a guide to Edinburgh, which, of the many helps upon his journey, was the greatest. Having crost the border, he then proceeds with his narrative in prose.
He waded the Esk and the Annan, and reached Moffatt in one day from Carlisle — "the weariest day's journey that ever he footed." The next day brought him one-and-twenty miles to a sorry village called Blithe; "but I was blithe myself," he says, "to come to any place of harbour or succour; for since I was born I never was so weary, or so near being dead with extreme travel. I was foundered and refoundered of all four; and for my better comfort, I came so late, that I must lodge without doors all night, or else in a farmhouse where the good wife lay in child-bed, her husband being from home, her own servant maid being her nurse; a creature naturally compacted and artificially adorned with an incomparable homeliness." Hence it was but fifteen miles to Edinburgh, in which "wished, long-expected, ancient, famous city," he came to take rest on the 13th of August, having started from London on the 14th of July.
"I entered like Pierce Pennyless, altogether moneyless, but, I thank God, not friendless; for, being there, for the time of my stay, I might borrow — if any man would lend; spend — if I could get; beg — if I had the impudence; and steal — if I durst adventure the price of a hanging. But my purpose was to house my horse, and to suffer him and my apparel to lie in durance, or lavender, instead of litter, till such time as I could meet with some valiant friend that would desperately disburse. Walking thus down the street, (my body being tired with travel, and my mind attired with moody, muddy, Moor-ditch melancholy,) my contemplation did devoutly pray, that I might meet one or other to prey upon, being willing to take any slender acquaintance of any map whatsoever; viewing and circumviewing every man's face I met, as if I meant to draw his picture; but all my acquaintance was "non est inventus:" (pardon me, reader, that Latin is none of my own; I swear by Priscian's pericranium, an oath which I have ignorantly broken many times!) At last I resolved that the next gentleman that I met withal, should be acquaintance whether he would or no: and presently fixing mine eyes upon a gentleman-like object, I looked on him as if I would survey something through him, and make him my perspective. And he much musing at my gazing, and I much gazing at his musing, at last he crossed the way and made toward me, and then I made down the street from him, leaving him to encounter with my man, who came after me, leading my horse; whom he thus accosted: 'My friend,' quoth he, doth yonder gentleman' (meaning me) 'know me, that he looks so wistly on me?' 'Truly Sir,' said my man, 'I think not: but my master is a stranger come from London, and would gladly meet some acquaintance to direct him where he may have lodging, and horse-meat.' Presently the gentleman (being of a generous disposition) overtook me, with unexpected and undeserved courtesy, brought me to a lodging, and caused my horse to be put into his own stable: whilst we, discoursing over a pint of Spanish, I related so much English to him, as made him lend me ten shillings: (his name was Master John Maxwell,) which money, I am sure, was the first that I handled after I came from out the walls of London."
The gentleman who with so much good-nature allowed this acquaintanceship to be thus forced on him, walked about the city with him. Taylor had seen many fortresses in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and England, but all, he thought, must give place to Edinburgh Castle, both for strength and situation, and the High Street was "the fairest and goodliest" that ever his eyes beheld, as well as the largest that he had ever heard of; "the buildings being all of squared stone, five, six, and seven stories high, and many bye-lanes and closes on each side of the way, wherein are gentlemen's houses, much fairer than the buildings in the High Street; for in the High Street the merchants and tradesmen do dwell; but the gentlemen's mansions and goodliest houses are obscurely founded in the aforesaid lanes; the walls are eight or ten feet thick, exceeding strong, not built for a day, a week, or a month, or a year, but from antiquity to posterity, for many ages." Here he soon found, or made, so many acquaintances, and those so liberal of their wine and ale, that he says, if any man had asked him a civil question every night before he went to bed, all the wit in his head could not have made him a sober answer.
At length he met with Master Bernard Lindsay, one of the grooms of his Majesty's bedchamber: "he knew my estate was not guilty, because I brought no guilt with me, more than my sins, (and they would not pass current there): he therefore did replenish the vastity of my empty purse, and discharged a piece at me with two bullets of gold, each being in value worth eleven shillings, white money." He was now in the way of old court acquaintance, and here he gives us an anecdote of his life which well illustrates the utility and capacity of the article of dress known in those days by the appellation of trunk-hose.
"I went two miles from Leith, to a town called Burnt-Island, where I found many of my especial good friends, as Master Robert Hay, one of the grooms of his Majesty's bedchamber; Master David Drummond, one of his gentlemen-pensioners; Master James Acmooty, one of the grooms of the privy-chamber; Captain Murray; Sir Henry Witherington, knight; Captain Tyrie, and divers others: and there Master Hay, Master Drummond, and the good old Captain Murray, did very bountifully furnish me with gold for my expenses; but I being at dinner with these aforesaid gentlemen, as we were discoursing, there befell a strange accident, which I think worth the relating.
"I know not upon what occasion they began to talk of being at sea in former times, and I (amongst the rest) said, I was at the taking of Cales: whereto an English gentleman replied, that he was the next good voyage after at the Islands. I answered him that I was there also. He demanded in what ship I was? I told him in the Rainbow of the Queen's: why (quoth he) do you not know me? I was in the same ship, and my name is Witherington. Sir, said I, I do remember the name well; but by reason that it is near two-and-twenty years since I saw you, I may well forget the knowledge of you. Well, said he, if you were in that ship, I pray you tell me some remarkable token that happened in the voyage; whereupon I told him two or three tokens, which he did know to be true. Nay, then, said I, I will tell you another, which (perhaps) you have not forgotten. As our ship and the rest of the fleet did ride at anchor at the Isle of Flores, (one of the isles of the Azores,) there were some fourteen men and boys of our ship that for novelty would go ashore, and see what fruit the island did bear, and what entertainment it would yield us: so being landed, we went up and down and could find nothing but stones, heath, and moss, and we expected oranges, lemons, figs, musk-millions, and potatoes: in the mean space the wind did blow so stiff, and the sea was so extreme rough, that our ship-boat could not come to the land to fetch us, for fear she should be beaten in pieces against the rocks; this continued five days, so that we were almost famished for want of food; but at the last, (I, squandering up and down,) by the providence of God, I happened into a cave or poor habitation, where I found fifteen loaves of bread, each of the quantity of a penny loaf in England; I, having a valiant stomach of the age of almost a hundred and twenty hours breeding, fell to, and ate two loaves and never said grace; and as I was about to make a horse-loaf of the third loaf, I did put twelve of them into my breeches, and my sleeves, and so went mumbling out of the cave, leaning my back against a tree, when upon the sudden a gentleman came to me, and said, friend, what are you eating? Bread (quoth I). For God's sake, said he, give me some! With that I put my hand into my breech, (being my best pantry,) and I gave him a loaf, which he received with many thanks, and said that if ever he could requite it he would. I had no sooner told this tale, but Sir Henry Witherington did acknowledge himself to be the man that I had given the loaf unto two-and-twenty years before; where I found the proverb true, that men have more priviledge than mountains in meeting."
Taylor now departed from Edinburgh, meaning to see Stirling Castle, visit his "honourable friends" the Earl of Marr and Sir William Murray, Lord of Abercarney, and return in two days. But when he came to Stirling he found that these friends were gone to the great hunting in the Brea of Marr, and he was told, that if he made haste, he might perhaps overtake them at Brechin. When he reached Brechin, they had been gone four days. So taking another guide, after them he went, by "strange ways, over mountains and rocks, putting up the first night in the Laird of Eggel's land, at a house where the people could scarcely speak any English," and where, for the only time in Scotland, he was annoyed by the most unclean of six-legged insects, which he calls Irish musquitoes. Next day he travelled over Mount Skeene; it was warm in the valley, "but when I came to the top," he says, my teeth began to dance in my head with cold, like virginals' jacks, and withal, a most familiar mist embraced me round, that I could not see through my length any way; withal, it yielded so friendly a dew, that it did moisten through all my clothes." Up and down he estimated this hill at six miles, "the way so uneven, stoney, and full of bogs, quagmires, and long heath, that a dog with three legs would there outrun a horse with four." At night, "with extreme travail," he came to the place where he could see the Brae of Marr, "which is a large country, all composed of such mountains, that Shooter's Hill, Gad's Hill, Highgate Hill, Hampstead Hill, Birdtop Hill, or Malvern Hills, are but mole-hills in comparison, or like a liver or gizzard under a capons wing, in respect of the altitude of their tops, or perpendicularity of their bottoms."
Here he found his friends, with lords and ladies, and hundreds of knights, esquires, and followers, all in one habit, "as if Lycurgus had been there, and made laws of equality; for at this annual hunting, every one conformed to the habit of the highlandmen, who for the most part speak nothing but Irish, and in former times were those people which were called the Red-Shanks. Their habit is shoes with but one sole a-piece, stockings which they call short-hose, made of a warm stuff of divers colours, which they call tartane; as for breeches, many of them nor their forefathers, never wore any, but a jerkin of the same stuff that their hose is of, their garters being bands or wreathes of hay or straw, with a plaid about their shoulders, which is a mantle of divers colours, much finer and lighter stuff than their hose, with blue flat caps on their heads, a handkerchief knit with two knots about their necks, and thus were they attired. Now their weapons are long bows and forked arrows, swords and targets, harquebusses, muskets, dirks, and Loquhabor-axes; with these arms I found many of them armed for the hunting. As for their attire, any man of what degree soever, that comes amongst them, must not disdain to wear it; for if they do, then they will disdain to hunt, or willingly to bring on their dogs: but if men be kind unto them and be in their habit, then are they conquered with kindness, and the sport will be plentiful." The Earl of Marr put the Water-Poet "into this shape," and after leaving his house he was twelve days "before he saw either house, corn-field, or habitation for any creature but deer, wild horses, wolves, and such like." There were, however, "small cottages built on purpose to lodge in, which they call Lonquhards."
Taylor fared plentifully at this noble hunting, and entered heartily into the sport.
"I thank my good Lord Erskin, he commanded that I should always be lodged in his lodging, the kitchen being always on the side of a bank, many kettles and pots boiling, and many spits turning and winding, with great variety of cheer: as venison baked, sodden, roast and stewed; beef, mutton, goats, kid, hares, fresh salmon, pidgeons, hens, capons, chickens, partridges, moorecoots, heathcocks, caperkellies, and termagants; good ale, sack, white, and claret, tent, (or allegant,) with most potent aquavitae. All these, and more than these we had continually, in superfluous abundance, caught by falconers, fowlers, fishers, and brought by my lord's tenants and purveyors to victual our camp, which consisteth of fourteen or fifteen hundred men and horses. The manner of the hunting is this: five or six hundred men do rise early in the morning, and they do disperse themselves divers ways, and seven, eight, or ten miles compass, they do bring or chase in the deer in many herds, (two, three, or four hundred in a herd,) to such and such a place, as the noblemen shall appoint them; then when day is come, the lords and gentlemen of their companies do ride or go to the said places, sometimes wading up to the middle through bournes and rivers: and then they being come to the place, do lie down on the ground till those foresaid scouts, which are called the Tinckhell, do bring down the deer. But as the proverb says of a bad cook, so these Tinckhell men do like their own fingers; for besides their bows and arrows, which they carry with them, we can hear now and then an arquebuss or a musket go off, which they do seldom discharge in vain: then after we had stayed there three hours or thereabouts, we might perceive the deer appear on the hills round about us, (their heads making a show like a wood,) which being followed close by the Tinckhell, are chased down into the valley where we lay; then all the valley on each side being waylaid with a hundred couple of strong Irish greyhounds, they are let loose as occasion serves upon the herd of deer, that with dogs, guns, arrows, dirks, and daggers, in the space of two hours, fourscore fat deer were slain; which after are disposed of, some one way and some another, twenty and thirty miles, and more than enough left for us to make merry withal at our rendezvous. I liked the sport so well, that I made these two sonnets following.
Why should I waste invention, to endite
Ovidian fictions, or Olympian games?
My misty muse enlightened with more light,
To a more noble pitch her aim she frames.
I must relate to my great master, James,
The Caledonian annual peaceful war;
How noble minds do eternize their fairies,
By martial meeting in the Brae of Marr:
How thousand gallant spirits came near and far,
With swords and targets, arrows, bows, and guns,
That all the troop, to men of judgement, are
The God of War's great never conquered sons.
The sport is manly, yet none bleed but beasts,
And last the victor on the vanquished feasts.
If sport like this can on the mountains be,
Where Phoebus' flames can never melt the snow,
Then let who list delight in vales below
Sky-kissing mountains pleasure are for me:
What braver object can man's eye-sight see,
Than noble, worshipful, and worthy wights,
As if they were prepared for sundry fights,
Yet all in sweet society agree?
Through heather, moss, 'mongst frogs and bogs and fogs,
'Mongst craggy cliffs and thunder-battered hills,
Hares, hinds, bucks, roes, are chased by men and dogs,
Where two hours' hunting fourscore fat deer kills.
Lowland, your sports are low as is your seat!
The highland games and minds are high and great.
"Being come to our lodgings, there was such baking, boiling, roasting, and stewing, as if Cook Ruffian had been there to have scalded the devil in his feathers: and after supper a fire of fir-wood as high as an indifferent may-pole; for I assure you, that the Earl of Marr will give any man that is his friend, for thanks, as many fir-trees (that are as good as any ship's masts in England) as are worth (if they were in any place near the Thames, or any other portable river) the best earldom in England or Scotland either; for I dare affirm, he hath as many growing there, as would serve for masts (from this time to the end of the world) for all the ships, caracks, hoyes, galleys, boats, drumlers, barks, and water-crafts, that are now or can be in the world these forty years."
After the hunt broke up he was entertained at Ruthen by the Lord of Engie, at Ballo Castle by the Laird of Graunt, at Tarnaway by the Earl of Murray, at Spinaye by the Bishop of Murray; and by the Marquis of Huntley, at a sumptuous house of his, named the Bog of Geethe. And after five-and-thirty days' hunting and travelling, he returned to Edinburgh, those lords giving him gold to defray his charges on the journey. He stayed at Edinburgh eight days, to recover "from falls and bruises received in the highland mountainous hunting." Many worthy gentlemen there suffered him neither to want wine nor good cheer. "At Leith," he says, "I found my long approved and assured good friend, Master Benjamin Johnson, at one Master John Stuart's house. I thank him for his great kindness towards me, for at my taking leave of him, he gave me a piece of gold of two-and-twenty shillings to drink his health in England, and, withal, willed me to remember his kind commendation to all his friends. So with a friendly farewell I left him, as well as I hope never to see him in a worse estate; for he is amongst noblemen and gentlemen, that know his true worth and their honour, where with much respect and love he is worthily entertained."
Being now to commence his journey home, according to the bond, he discharged his pockets of all the money he had at the port or gate called the Netherbows, and as he came pennyless within the walls, went moneyless out of them. But he had no meagre days, nor bivouacking at nights, on his homeward road; for Master James Acmooty, with whom he presently fell in, was going to London, and for the sake of his company undertook that neither he nor his horse should want upon the way; an undeserved courtesy, of which Taylor says, his want persuaded his manners to accept; not that he availed himself of it on the whole journey, for he overtook other friends at Newcastle, where Sir Henry Witherington gave him a bay mare, (because he would accept no money,) in requital for the loaf; he tried his own fortune from Topcliffe to York, and obtained letters for the rest of the way, or found acquaintance. His friends came to meet him at Islington, at the sign of the Maidenhead, when with all love he was entertained with much good cheer, and after supper they had a play of the Life and Death of Guy of Warwick, played by the Earl of Derby's men, and on the next morning, Oct. 15, he came to his house at London.
Thus did I neither spend, or beg, or ask,
By any course, direct or indirectly
But in each tittle I performed my task
According to my bill most circumspectly.
His next journey, which was also undertaken as a wagering adventure, was to Prague, in the year 1620. He published an account of it, "more suo," in prose and verse. "The truth," he says, "is, that I did chiefly write it, because I am of much acquaintance, and cannot pass the streets but I am continually stayed by one or other, to know what news; so that sometimes I am four hours before I can go the length of two pair of huts, where such nonsense or senseless questions are propounded to me, that calls many seeming wise men's wisdom in question, drawing aside the curtains of their understandings, and laying their ignorance wide open. First, John Easy takes me, and holds me fast by the fist half an hour; and will needs torture some news out of me from Spinola, whom I was never near by five hundred miles, for he is in the Palatinate country and I was in Bohemia. I am no sooner eased of him, but Gregory Gandergoose, an alderman of Gotham, catches me by the goll, demanding if Bohemia be a great town, and whether there be any meat in it, and whether the last fleet of ships be arrived there." (You know, reader, that Prague might have been a sea-port, according to Corporal Trim.) "His mouth being stopt, a third examines me boldly what news from Vienna? where the Emperor's army is, and what the Duke of Bavaria doth? what is become of Count Buquoy? how fare all the Englishmen? where lies the King of Bohemia's forces? what Bethlem Gabor doth? what tidings of Dampeier? and such a tempest of inquisitions that almost shakes my patience in pieces. To ease myself of all which, I was enforced to set pen to paper and let this poor pamphlet (my herald, or nuntius,) travel and talk, while I take my ease with silence."
The Queen of Bohemia, who was then such in possession, and not in title alone, made him a partaker of her bounty at Prague; and he had her youngest son, Prince Rupert, in his arms, and brought away, to keep as a memorial of this honour, the infant's shoes.
Lambskin they were, as white as innocence,
(True patterns for the footsteps of a Prince,)
And time will come, as I do hope in God,
He that in childhood with these shoes was shod,
Shall with his manly feet once trample down
All Antichristian foes to his renown.
Poor Taylor lived to see the prince employed in a very different war from what these lines anticipated!
Two years alter this journey he made "a very merry wherry-ferry voyage from London to York." Being forced by stress of weather to land at Cromer, the whole town was alarmed, he and his four men were supposed to be pirates, the constables took them into custody, and guards were set upon their wherry.
They did examine me, I answered then,
I was John Taylor, and a waterman,
And that my honest fellow Job, and I,
Were servants to King James's Majesty;
How we to York upon a mart were bound,
And that we landed fearing to be drown'd.
When all this would not satisfy the crew,
I freely ope'd my trunks, and bade them view.
I showed them Books of Chronicles and Kings,
Some prose, some verse, some idle sonnetings;
I showed them all my letters to the full,
Some to York's Archbishop, and some to Hull.
Nothing, however, would satisfy the people, till two magistrates, (Sir Austin Palgrave and Mr. Robert Kempe,) had examined these invaders. These gentlemen knew the Water-Poet by name, and had read some of his books; they administered the oath of allegiance to him and his men, to content the people, and gave him "corn and wine and lodging too;" and he met then with as much assistance from the sailors there, as he had found incivility at first. He crossed the Wash with some danger, not knowing the place and having no pilot, and being caught in the Hyger. When he reached Boston he was glad to learn that the remainder of his way might be performed by an inland navigation. Accordingly, he went up the Witham, fifty miles, to Lincoln, performing the distance in one day.
From thence we passed a ditch of weeds and mud,
Which they do (falsely) there call Forcedike Flood,
For I'll be sworn no flood I could find there,
But dirt and filth which scarce my boat would bear:
'Tis eight miles long, and there our pains was such,
As all our travel did not seem so much.
My men did wade, and draw the boat like horses,
And scarce could tug her on with all our forces:
Moil'd, toil'd, mired, tired, still labouring, ever doing,
Yet were we nine long hours that eight miles going.
At last when as the day was well nigh spent.
We got from Forcedike's floodless flood to Trent.
Down the Trent then they proceeded to Gainsborough, which they reached just "as the windows of the day did shut;" and the next day entered the Humber, but instead of bending their course directly for York, they went out of it to touch at Hull, and had nearly been swamped on the way, an east wind raising such waves against a swift ebb tide, that he had never seen any thing like it before in the course of his waterman's life.
He had letters to the mayor and other members of the corporation, as well as to private individuals, who were requested to make him welcome, and give him Hull cheese, which he says, "is much like a loaf out of a brewer's basket; for it is composed of two simples, malt and water, in one compound, and is cousin-german to the mightiest ale in England." Hops not being mentioned in this compound, it seems that the distinction between ale and beer continued to be known in his time. Here he was received not merely like a man whose company was acceptable to every one who could obtain it, but as a person, also, whose visit did honour to the town. Mayor and Aldermen entertained him, and he was pleased, as well he might, with the prosperity and good order of a place, where relief was provided for all the helpless poor and work for all the rest.
Thanks, Mr. Mayor, for my bacon-gammon!
Thanks, Roger Parker, for my small fresh salmon!
'Twas excellent good and more the truth to tell ye,
Boil'd with a fine plum-pudding in the belly.
The sixth of August, well accompanied
With best of townsmen to the water-side,
There did I take my leave, and to my ship
I with my drum and colours quickly skip:
The one did dub-a-dub, and rumble brave,
The ensign in the air did play and wave;
I launch'd, supposing all things had been done;
Bounce, from the Blockhouse, quoth a roaring gun;
And waving hats on both sides, with content,
I cried adieu! adieu! and thence we went.
That night he got to Cawood, and called the next day on the good old archbishop, Tobias Matthew, who gave him gold and made him dine at his own table, while his men made good cheer in the hail. After dinner they proceeded to York, so finishing their adventure. He offered the boat, as in duty bound, he says, to the Lord Mayor, who after some deliberation declined the present. Taylor, therefore, found a purchaser for it. From the Mayor he got nothing but a cup of claret and some beer. He says,
I gave his lordship, in red gilded leather,
A well-bound book of all my works together,
Which he did take.—
"Here I make a full point, for I received not a point in exchange." He then returned to London by land, and his Epilogue says,
Thus have I brought to end a work of pain,
I wish it may requite me with some gain;
For well I wot the dangers where I ventured,
No full-bagg'd man would ever durst have entered.
In the ensuing year (1623) he made a similar voyage from London to Christ Church, in Hampshire, and so up the Avon to Salisbury, and this was "for toyle, travail, and danger," the worst and most difficult passage he had yet made. These desperate adventures did not answer the purpose for which they were undertaken, and he complains of this in what he calls (Taylorice) the Scourge of Baseness, a Kicksey Winsey, or a Lerry-Come-Twang.
I made my journey for no other ends
But to get money and to try my friends.—
They took a book worth twelve pence, and were bound
To give a crown, an angel, or a pound,
A noble, piece, or half-piece, — what they list
They past their words, or freely set their fist.
Thus got I sixteen hundred hands and fifty,
Which sum I did suppose was somewhat thrifty;
And now my youths with shifts and tricks and cavils,
Above seven hundred, play the sharking javils.
Four thousand and five hundred books he had given out, he says, upon these implied or expressed conditions; they had cost him more than seven-score pounds, and his Scotch walk had been sport to the trouble of vainly tramping about in seeking what was his due. He had given out money as well as books. The censures which were past upon him, and others, who like him went dangerous voyages by sea in small wherries, for "tempting God by undertaking such perilous courses," he acknowledges were not undeserved, and said that in this way he had done his last. Yet, it appears, that after this he engaged in a more desperate adventure than any of the former, that of going from London to Queenborough in a paper boat, with two stock-fish tied to two canes for oars! Roger Bird, a vintner, was the principal in this mad enterprize. They took with them eight large and well-blown bladders, which were found necessary in the course of half an hour; for before they had got three miles, the paper bottom fell to pieces, and they had only the skeleton of the boat to trust to, and their bladders, four on each side. There they sat, "within six inches of the brim."
Thousands of people all the shores did hide,
And thousands more did meet us on the tide,
With scullers, oars, with ship-boats and with barges,
To gaze on us they put themselves to charges.
Thus did we drive, and drive the time away,
Till pitchy night had driven away the day.
The sun unto the under world was fled,
The moon was loth to rise, and kept her bed;
The stars did twinkle, but the ebon clouds
Their light, our sight, obscures and overshrouds.
The tossing billows made our boat to caper,
Our paper form scarce being form of paper;
The water four miles broad, no oars to row;
Night dark, and where we were we did not know:
And thus 'twixt doubt and fear, hope and despair,
I fell to work, and Roger Bird to prayer;
And as the surges up and down did heave us,
He cried most fervently, good Lord, receive us!
Taylor tells us, honestly, that he prayed as much, but he worked at the same time, which the poor wineman was not waterman enough to do: and having been on the water from Saturday, "at evening tide," till Monday morning, they reached Queenborough; and he says, being
I took my fellow Roger by the hand,
And both of us, ere we two steps did go,
Gave thanks to God that had preserved us so;
Confessing that his mercy us protected,
When as we least deserved, and less expected.
They arrived on the fair day, when the mayor entertained all comers with bread, beer, and oysters. They presented him with the skeleton of their boat, which
—to glorify that town of Kent,
He meant to hang up for a monument;
but while he was feasting them, the country people tore it piecemeal, every man wishing to carry away a scrap as a memorial of this mad adventure.
Taylor was engaged in a flyting with Fennor, who seems to have been a rival of his own rank: the fashion of such contests in ribaldry prevailed a little before his time in France and in Scotland; our literature has luckily escaped it, at least, I know not of any other example than the present. The circumstances which gave rise to it are related by the Water Poet, "to any that can read," in a short epistle prefixed to "Taylor's Revenge, or the Rhymer, William Fennor, firkt, ferreted, and finely fetcht over the coals." "Be it," he says, "known unto all men, that I, John Taylor, waterman, did agree with William Fennor, (who arrogantly and falsely entitles himself the King's Majesty's Rhyming Poet,) to answer me at a trial of wit, on the seventh of October last, (1614,) on the Hope stage, on the Bankside; and the said Fennor received of me ten shillings in earnest of his coming to meet me; whereupon I caused a thousand bills to be printed, and divulged my name a thousand ways and more, giving my friends and divers of my acquaintance notice of this Bear-Garden banquet of dainty conceits; and when the day came that the play should have been performed, the house being filled with a great audience, who had all spent their monies extraordinarily, then this companion for an ass ran away, and left me for a fool, amongst thousands of critical conjurors, where I was ill thought of by my friends, scorned by my foes; and in conclusion, in a greater puzzle than the blind bear in the midst of all her whip-broth. Besides the sum of twenty pounds in money, I lost my reputation amongst many, and gained disgrace instead of my better expectations. In revenge of which wrongs done unto me by the said rhyming rascal, I have written this invective against him; chiefly because the ill-looking hound doth not confess he hath injured me; nor hath not so much honesty as to bring or send me my money that he took for earnest of me, but on the contrary part, he rails and abuses me with his calumnious tongue, and scandalizes me in all companies where he hears me nominated."
The price of admission had been raised upon this occasion, and when the audience had exhausted their patience in waiting for Fennor, they vented their indignation upon Taylor, pelting as well as abusing him, with that cowardly brutality of which all mobs seem capable. The Water Poet in return sent out a volley of vituperative verse both against them and the defaulter; and in the collected volume of his works, he was just enough to insert Fennor's defence, "wherein the Waterman, John Taylor, is dasht, sowst, and finally fallen into the Thames, with his slanderous taxation, base imputations, scandalous accusations, and foul abominations, against his Majesty's Rhyming Poet." From this answer it appears that Fennor, who had obtained reputation enough as an improvisatore to exhibit before James I., had assented to Taylor's project, which was that they should perform a sort of drama between them, Taylor having "studied several humours in prose," and Fennor being to play his part extemporaneously in verse; for which he required either "half the commodity thereof; or security for five pounds; or else twenty shillings in hand, and the rest as the day afforded." He excused himself for his non-appearance by a lame story, and poured out a volley of recriminative ribaldry, which the Water Poet answered in the same strain. The common estimate of Taylor's writings seems to have been taken from these pieces, which are the worst, and from his Rhymed Chronicles, which are the most worthless of his productions.
He was a married man, and the ensuing lines may show that he "never accounted his marriage among his infelicities:"
I have a wife which I was wont to praise,
But that was in my younger wooing days:
And though she's neither shrew, nor sheep, I vow,
With justice I cannot dispraise her now.
She hath an instrument that's ever strung
To exercise my patience on — her tongue:
But past all question, and beyond all doubt,
She'll ne'er infect my forehead with the gout.
A married man, some say, hath two days gladness,
And all his life else is a lingering sadness;
The one day's mirth is, when he first is married,
The other's when his wife's to burying carried:
One I have had, should I the t'other see,
It could not, be a day of mirth to me,
For I, (as many have,) when I did woo,
Myself in tying fast did not undo;
But I have by my long experience found
I had been undone, had I not been bound.
I have my bonds of marriage long enjoyed,
And do not wish my obligation void.
When the troubles came on, the Water Poet, who had often tasted of the royal bounty, was too honest and too brave a man to turn with the tide; he left London, therefore, and retired to Oxford. He had formerly found shelter there during a plague, an account of which he published and dated from Oriel College. In one of his tracts he acknowledges that the very air of the colleges and schools, the books he had read there, and the dictionaries he had pored upon, had much "illustrated, elevated, and illuminated his intellect;" for he had "picked out here and there etymologies, expressions, explanations, and significations of hard words out of divers tongues." He now opened a victualling house there, and employed his pen against the Roundheads, and made himself, it is said, "much esteemed for his facetious company." Upon the surrender of Oxford and the ruin of the royal cause, he returned to Westminster, and kept a public house in Phoenix Alley, near Long Acre, where, after the King's death, he set up a Mourning Crown for his sign. This, however, he found it necessary to remove, and then he hung up his own portrait in its stead. His health and spirits he retained to a good old age, and when more than seventy made a journey through Wales, in the year 1652, and published an account of it. Two years afterwards he died, at the age of seventy-four, and was buried in the church-yard of St. Paul's, Covent Garden.
An epitaph was composed upon him somewhat in his own style:
Here lies the Water Poet, honest John,
Who rowed in the streams of Helicon;
Where having many rocks and dangers past,
He at the haven of Heaven arrived at last.
There is a portrait of him bearing date 1655, by his nephew, who was a painter at Oxford, and presented it to the Bodleian, where it was thought not unworthy of a place. He is represented in a black scull-cap, and black gown or rather cloak. The countenance is described to me as one of "well-fed rotundity; the eyes small, with an expression of cunning, into which their natural shrewdness had probably been deteriorated by the painter; their colour seems to have been hazel: there is scarcely any appearance of eye-brows; the lips have a slight cast of playfulness or satire. The brow is wrinkled, and he is in the fashion of mustachios with a tuft of beard under the lip. The portrait now is, like the building in which it has thus long been preserved, in a state of rapid decay:" "I hope," says the friend to whom I am obliged for this account of it, "his verse is of a more durable quality: — for 'ut pictura poesis' would annihilate him altogether."
All making, marring, never-turning Time,
To all that is, is period and is prime;
Time wears out Fortune, Love, and Death, and Fame.
So sung the Water Poet; — it wore out him, and is now wearing out his picture and his works; and he is not one of those writers for whom a palingenesia can be expected from their dust. Yet we have lately seen the whole of Herrick's poems republished, a coarse-minded and beastly writer, whose dunghill, when the few flowers that grew therein had been transplanted, ought never to have been disturbed. Those flowers indeed are beautiful and perennial; but they should have been removed from the filth and ordure in which they are embedded. There is nothing of John Taylor's which deserves preservation for its intrinsic merit alone, but in the collection of his pieces which I have perused there is a great deal to illustrate the manners of his age; and as he lived more than twenty years after this collection was printed, and continued publishing till the last, there is probably much in his uncollected works also which for the same reason ought to be preserved. A curious and useful volume of selections might be formed from them. There are many perishing writers from whose otherwise worthless works it is much to be desired that excerpts of this kind should be made: a series of such would be not less valuable than the Harleian Miscellany or the Somers Tracts.
If the Water Poet had been in a higher grade of society, and bred to some regular profession, he would probably have been a much less distinguished person in his generation. No spoon could have suited his mouth so well as the wooden one to which he was born. His way of life was best suited to his character, nor could any regular education so fully have brought out the sort of talent which he possessed. Fortunately, also, he came into the world at the right time, and lived in an age when Kings and Queens condescended to notice him, nobles and archbishops admitted him to their table, and mayors and corporations received him with civic honours. The next of our uneducated poets [Stephen Duck] was composed of very different clay, — and did not moisten it so well.