1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Vallans

John Payne Collier, "The Honorable Prentice: or The Taylor is a man" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:189-91.



The only reason for assigning this very rare tract to William Vallans, the author of A Tale of two Swannes, 4to, 1590, is, that it bears the initials W. V. at the end of the dedication. There was, however, an interval of twenty-five years between the publications. W. V. may mean anybody else, and there is not the least connection or similarity of style. William Vallans was one of our early blank-verse poets, merited high appreciation, and could never have condescended to the putting together of such a patchwork production as this narrative regarding a renowned tailor, the poisoning of the daughter of Lord Fitzwater, the flitch of Bacon at Dunmow, and the assassination of Hall in Westminster Abbey in the reign of Richard II. The tract under consideration is nearly all prose, and was clearly meant to be popular with the lower orders, while the poem of the Two Swannes could never have been intended for perusal by any but more refined understandings. Take, for instance, only such musical lines as these:—

Then looke how Cynthia with her silver rayes
Exceedes the brightnesse of the lesser starres,
When in her chiefest pompe she hasteth downe
To steale a kiss from drowsie Endymion,
So doe these princes farre excell in state
The Swannes that breede within Europas boundes.

There is nothing very novel in the simile, but there is something very graceful in the language; and the epithet "drowsie" was at that time a rather bold attempt to introduce variety of measure, by requiring the reader to pronounce two syllables in the time of one, and to carry on the last syllable of "drowsie" to the first syllable of Endymion.

The tract before us is dedicated to Robert Valens; and if W. V. had had the same, or so nearly the same, name, he would have been sure to allude to it; and perhaps to claim relationship, if Vallans and Valens had been identical as appellations. What W. V. calls "the famous History of Sir John Hawkewood," commences after a brief "Introduction," but it is nothing more than the old story avowedly derived from Paulus Jovius, upon which Richard Johnson had dwelt in 1592, when, in his Nine Worthies of London, he represented Hawkewood as thus opening his own story:—

Who knowes my ofspring doth not know my prime;
Who knowes my birth, perhaps, will scorne my deedes:
My valour makes my vertue more then slime,
For that survives, though I weare deaths pale weedes.
Ground doth consume the carkes unto dust,
Yet cannot make the valiants armour rust.

Into Hawkewood's adventures in the reign of Edward III. we need not enter; and the second portion of the tract, which relates to Lord Fitzwater and his fair daughter, is almost equally well known. When speaking of the death of King John, the writer inserts the following note in his margin, — "Of which matter Mr. Michael Draiton and others have written at large." The most curious and original division relates to the Gammon, or Flitch of Bacon at Dunmow, to which Chaucer refers when he makes his Wife of Bath say,—

The bacon was not fet for hem, I trowe,
That some men have in Essexe at Donmowe.

The information in the tract in our hands professes to be derived from the records of the Priory at Dunmow, showing that the prize had been gained of old by three persons only, viz.: Stephen Samuel of Aston, in the 7th year of Edward III.; Richard Wright of Norwich, on 17th August, 23 Henry VI.; and by Thomas le Fuller of Coggeshall, in 2 Henry VIII. What follows is given as the form of the oath to be taken by the claimants before the Prior could deliver to them the flitch (forsan flesh, or Germ. fleisch) of bacon:—

The order of the Oath.
You shall sweare by the custom of confession
If ever you made nuptiall transgression,
Be you, sythe married man or wife,
By house hould brawles or contentious strife,
Or otherwise in bed or at board,
Offend each other in deede or word;
Or since the parish clarke said Amen,
You wisht your selves unmarried agen:
Or in a twelvemoneths time and a day
Repented not in thought any way,
But continued true and just in desire
As when you joind hands in the holy quire.
If to these conditions, without all feare,
Of your owne accord you will freely sweare,
A whole Gammon of Bacon you shall receive,
And beare it hence with love and good leave.
For this is our custome, a[t] Dunmow well knowne:
Though the pleasure be ours, the Bacons your own.

The murder of Thomas Hall took place at the high altar of Westminster Abbey, to which sanctuary he had fled when he had refused to give up the son of the Earl of Dene. There he was slain, and on the authority of Camden's Remains, which W. V. cites, we are told that the dead body was buried "not far from Chaucer's tombe."

There was what, at first sight, would seem to be a second edition of this tract in 1616; but it was, in fact, merely a reissue of some copies that remained on hand from the preceding year: the only difference is, that on the title-page of the impression of 1615 Henry Gosson's address in Pannier Alley is given, while in the impression of 1616 it is omitted. The rest does not vary in a single letter. It is somewhat surprising that such a catchpenny publication did not meet with a more speedy sale.