The authorship of this small volume is ascertained by certain quotations from it in England's Parnassus, 1600, to which the name of Edw. Guilpin is subscribed. Nothing is known of him beyond the fact that he wrote some verses prefixed to Jervis Markham's Devoreux, in the year preceding the appearance of his own work. Francis Meres, when he published his Palladis Tamia, in the autumn of 1598, mentioned Skialetheia, which had come out just previously, but did not give a hint as to the writer. Whenever Skialetheia has hitherto been spoken of, it has been treated as anonymous.
We are only aware of the existence of two complete copies, one in the Bodleian Library, and the other in that of the Earl of Ellesmere. In 1843 the late Mr. Utterson reprinted it, but only struck off sixteen copies, to which we shall recur presently.
The first thirteen leaves of the original are occupied by seventy epigrams of various merit, not a few of them being directed against living or dead authors. Thus, upon Thomas Deloney, the ballad-poet, who generally made public executions the subject of his verses, we read:—
Like to the fatall ominous Raven, which tolls
The sicke man's Dirge within his hollow beake,
So every paper-clothed post in Poules
To thee (Deloney) mourningly doth speake,
And tells thee of thy hempen tragedie.
The wracks of hungry Tyburne nought to thine
Such massacre's made of thy balladry,
And thou in griefe for woe thereof must pine:
At every streets end Fuscus rimes are read,
And thine in silence must be buried.
By Fuscus, Guilpin means John Marston, whose severe satires were at that date extremely popular. Epigram 24 is directed against him:—
When Fuscus first had taught his Muse to scold,
He gloried in her rugged vaine so much,
That every one came to him heare her should,
First Victor, then Cinna; nor did he grutch
To let both players and artificers
Deale with his darling, as if confident
None of all these he did repute for lechers,
Or thought her face would all such lusts prevent.
But how can he a bawdes surname refuse,
Who to all sorts thus prostitutes his Muse?
Guilpin only seems to use real names where he can do so with impunity, as in the case of Gue, a low comedian of some note, who is addressed in this style:—
Gue, hang thyself for woe, since gentlemen
Are now growne cunning in thy apishnes;
Nay, for they labour with their foolishnes
Thee to undoe. Procure to hang them, then:
It is a strange seeld scene uncharitie
To make fooles of themselves to hinder thee.
Gue is mentioned as an actor, with Cokely and Pod, in Ben Jonson's 129th epigram, addressed "To Mime." "Seeld seen" is of course seldom seen, akin to Shakspeare's "seld-shown" in Coriolanus, Act II. sc. 1. Some of the epigrams are of a kind more generally applicable, as that to Cornelius, ridiculing the manners of the young fops of the day, and beginning:—
See you him yonder, who sits on the stage
With the tobacco-pipe now at his mouth?
It is Cornelius, &c.
The Satires, which fill all the later portions of the book, are six in number, besides a Preludium. They may all boast of a certain degree of cleverness and acuteness, affording, in some places, curious pictures of the manners of the time. Guilpin's animosity to Marston and Hall (who is also struck at with some success) seems to have arisen out of the fact that they preceded him in this department, and obtained great popularity. We take a specimen from Satire V., which may remind the reader of Churchill; and here again Guilpin has another blow at poor Gue:—
Oh, what a pageant's this! what foole was I
To leave my studie to see vanitie!
But who's in yonder coach? my lord and foole,
One that for ape-tricks can put Gue to schools.
Heroicke spirits true nobilitie,
Which can make choyce of such societie!
He more perfections hath than y' would suppose:
He hath a wit of waxe, fresh as a rose:
He plays well on the treble Violin;
He soothes his lord up in his grossest sin:
At any rimes sprung from his lordships head,
Such as Elderton would not have fathered,
He cries Oh rare, my lord! he can discourse
The story of Don Pacolet and his horse
To make my lord laugh — swear and jest
And with a simile non plus the best.
All are written in the same spirit, and with the same spirit; but in his sixth satire the author takes occasion to mention Chaucer and Gower, afterwards praises some of his contemporaries, naming Spenser, Daniel, Markham, Drayton, lamenting the untimely loss of Sidney; and not naming Marston, but at the same time acknowledging that Fuscus was applauded by the world.
We have spoken of the late Mr. Utterson's very limited reprint of Skialetheia in 1843: he intended of course to do a service to our early literature, but he most unluckily employed persons to transcribe, and to print, who made such egregious blunders that the result of their labors is worse than worthless. We may point out two gross errors in the sixth satire, not in the way of complaint, but of regret. Thus for Guilpin's "vertue-purged soule," Mr. Utterson printed "nature-purged soule," and for "some mault-worme, barley-cap," he has printed "mouth-worme, barley-cap." In another part of the little volume he has "bucher dialect" instead of "livelier dialect," "teaching love's glorious world" for "scorching love's glorious world"; and in an epigram we have quoted, "every paper clothed poet in PouIes" instead of "every paper clothed post in Poules," referring to the bill-beplastered pillars He has also common for "cannon," jests for "jets," and poultry for "peltry," with various other errors, arising merely from having trusted too much to persons who were, perhaps, not so incompetent as careless. Mr. Utterson afterwards became so well aware of the defects of some of his reprints, that he corrected obvious blunders with his own pen; but this remark does not apply to Guilpin's Skialetheia.