In all English literature no writer has been more neglected than has Thomas Deloney. His three prose works, “Jack of Newberie,” “The Gentle Craft,” and “Thomas of Reading,” have been familiar enough to academic critics concerned to trace the origin and development of English prose fiction, but in their learned disquisitions full justice has seldom been given to the astonishing genius of this great Elizabethan novelist.
His zest for life displays itself in every sentence, in every word that he writes. His realism has never been equalled. The characters he invents are no book characters, but actual shop-door, street-corner people who eat possets, drink sack, cry, sneeze, and stand upon every-day shoe-leather. His three works might have been written by Sancho Panza, with such shrewd aplomb do they present the impulses and emotions of the indiscriminate crowd, of that section of the population which may be said to have its head “screwed on the right way.”
His sense of poetry is of the simple kind that can be understood by everybody, by the coal man, by the ice man, by the fruit man at the curb, the poetry that has to do with the sun, shining bright upon field or city square, the poetry that has to do with the fact that “women are not angels, though they have angel faces,” the poetry that is occupied with the whole turbulent stream of life.
What an observation Deloney had for the twists and quirks in human character! Carelessly he etches in for us brabbling women, penny-father old men, and prodigal youths, and at once the puppets of his imagination are walking between the street booths, or standing at their cutting stools, or sitting at their removable refectory tables gutting pudding pies; are actually there before us, at one moment out of temper, and at the next grinning, but always there firmly set within their habitation of flesh.
No lover of the sun should be content to remain unacquainted with Deloney’s work. “Yes, by Saint Anne and ginger shall be hot i’ the mouth too.” He is kin to Cervantes, sib to Francois Rabelais. He belongs to those who do not trouble themselves with idealistic notions, but are satisfied with the world as it is, with that naughty world that wags on, irrespective of pathetic credulities, in taverns where reckonings are set up in very fair chalk, and under the elm trees in the market place where the butter women’s tongues “like lambs’ tails are seldom still.”
Very little is known about him. Nash refers to him as “the Balletting Silke-Weaver of Norwich,” and it has been assumed from his name that he belonged to some persecuted continental Protestant family which had taken refuge in England. We are not surprised that the “university wits” derided the work of T. D., as Thomas Deloney used to sign himself. For when they wrote of the underworld it was always from above downward. To them Deloney himself would have been little better than “a base mechanical” who sold his own ballads in Cheapside.
He is supposed to have been born in 1543 and he died around 1600. It was by ballad writing that he first won popularity amongst the sweaty caps of his time. Some disaster, a fire, a hanging, would be in everybody’s mouth, and immediately up would start T. D. in his “tawny coat” to commemorate the event in jigging verse.
Like to the fatal ominous Raven which tolls The side man’s dirge within his hollow bcake.
Some popular discontent would be abroad and, sure enough, before long would find expression in one of his broad sheets.
In the famine year of 1596 his “Ballad on the Want of Corn” was written to such purpose that for some time the Mayor of London was “in search for T. D.,” in that the ballad represented Queen Elizabeth as speaking with her subjects “Dialogue wise in a very fond and undecent sort.” It may have been this scrape that set Deloney upon the safer occupation of writing novels. He had a son to provide for in his weaver’s home somewhere in the parish of St. Giles Cripple-gate.
Always he wrote gaily and carelessly for the populace, “composing as he goes i’ the street” stories to draw them from the dumps. He warns his readers not to look for “any matter of light value, curiously pen’d with pickt words or choice phrases, but a quaint and plain discourse best fitting matters of merriment.” The University men, these masters of “pickt” words, saw him doing far better than they what they had been trying to do, and marry were the “flirts and frumps” that used to float down to the vulgar poet from the heights of their Euphues Parnassus. Greene, apologising that he should demean himself by writing his “Defence of Conny Catching,” says: “Such triviall trinkets and threed-bare trash, had better seemed T. D. whose braines beaten to the yarking up of Ballades, might more lawfully have glaunst at the quaint conceites of conny-catching and crosse-biting.” “These fellows,” says another, “are in every corner of cities and market towns of the realme, singing and selling of ballads and pamphlets full of ribaldrie, and all scurrilous vanity, to the prophanation of God’s name.”
“The Muse” of Thomas Deloney, wrote Nash, “from the first peeping foorth, hath stood at Livery at an Alehouse wispe, never exceeding a penny a quart, day or night, and this deare yeare, together with the silencing of his looms, scarce that; he being constrained to betake him to carded Ale.” Kempe appended a note to his “Nine Daies Wonder” addressed “to the impudent generation of Ballad makers.” In this he declared: “I have made a privy search, what private Jigmonger of your jolly number hath been the Author of these abominable Ballets written of me. I was told it was the great Ballad-maker, T. Dâ€ž alias Thomas Deloney. , , . But I was given to understand, your late general, Thomas, died poorly (as you all must do) and was honestly buried, which is much to be doubted of some of you.”
How often one has longed for more talk from Shakespeare’s country people. The pages of Deloney are packed with such refreshing chatter, packed with kitchen wisdom. “For cunning continueth when fortune fleeteth. . . . It is gone, farewell it.” Apt saws, broad expressions of shrewd speech, like time-resistant home-spun patches from the cloak of human wisdom, abound in these little-read pages. It may be because of this homeliness that they have received such scant recognition. Always Deloney is a groundling writing for groundlings, and the grossness of his exuberance may well be an offence to cultured academicians who for the most part pass through life happily removed from contact with the “rabblement” who sweep their floors, make their fires, and roast their capons. Anybody directly concerned, day in and day out, with the mean employments necessary to civilised living acquires sharp insights, the sharp insights of slaves. To be trivial, frivolous, one must be safely removed from scouring pans and washing dish-clouts. When a woman is cooking a Christmas pudding or hemming a shroud, without conscious effort an awareness of the realities of existence gradually comes to her, and the same thing happens to a man who strikes an ox to the floor in a shambles, or who spends an April day digging a grave.
If ever Deloney has occasion to refer to the gentry or nobility it is as privileged fairyland folk with “lilly white hands” with whom he and his fellows, fighting for “bitten apples,” have little in common.
Deloney’s world remains always the world of clothiers who sit at their looms “in a row”; of the people who are not invited to banquets, but who scrabble for the orts behind pantry doors and then return home to sleep on truckle beds; of boys who play at push-pin in the streets, of boys, who fetch water from the conduit; of women who pummel soiled linen on the bottom step of a stairway leading down to the Thames —indeed of all poor people whom, as Deloney remarks with gentle irony, “God lightly blesseth with most children.”
It is the London of Queen Elizabeth’s reign that forms the background for his best scenes — the London whose houses were still for the most part mediaeval, At this time the Mermaid Tavern, with its two side doors, the one opening into Friday, and the other into Bread, Street, was at the height of its fame, and it was possible by a half hour’s walk through any of the city gates, through Ludgate or Moorgate or Bishopsgate, to reach the open country, where rams “with wreathed horns” could be seen tupping ewes. Today, not far from Westminster Abbey, there is a street called Tuttle Street. It marks the place of Tuttle meadow, famous in Deloney’s time for assignations, and where, in “The Gentle Craft,” the two “proper neat wenches” went to look for heartsease and thrift. It is the London of timbered house-fronts, of peaked gables, of steep tilted roofs, in winter shining with snow, over any of which one might expect to see a witch flying astride upon a broomstick. It is the London of the train bands, the London of the prentice boys crying “clubs,” the London resonant with the hearty night watchmen’s “Two of the clock and a cold and frosty morning,” the London where lighted lanthorns were hung in the church steeples after dark for the benefit of late travellers, the London of cobble streets and litter, the London of enclosed tavern yards encircled with balconies where, as the night drew on, the “anon Sir, anon Sir” of the drawer would imperceptibly give place to the sleeping stillness of the dead hours, when the only sound would be an occasional stamp from a travel-tired horse, as King Charles’s Wain rose higher and higher over the “new chimney.”
To read these three novels is to be privy to the stir and bustle of those far off streets, is to rub shoulders with these vigorous men and women, and to hear their exact speech, the very words of the formal burgomaster in his velvet cap, the very words of the man well “whittled,” staggering by a red-lattice, ale-house window, the very prittle prattle “of the drabs in the rain.” Deloney himself boasted that his tales were “fit to passe away the tediousness of the long winter evenings,” and he never spoke a more true word. There is no other Englishman who writes after his sort, so nimble, so solid, so honest.
Thomas Deloney goes near to defeating death of his ancient prerogative. The mortal prisoners who at that distant time were herded out of Cheapside and Pudding Lane no longer play at “mum budget.” Their everyday canting talk comes to us pat across the centuries, as if they themselves were “rounding us in the ear.” For Thomas Deloney knew them as a man knows his flat pennies. “Twittle, twattle I know what I know. . . . Life, why, what is it but a floure, a bubble in the water, a spann long and full of misere: and trust me I doe detest life, worse than a goat doth hate basil. . . . With hey trickse, tringoe tricksee. Under the greenwood tree.”
Deloney’s first novel, “Jacke of Newberie,” tells the story of a broadcloth weaver, John Winchcomb, who rose from the modest position of shop overseer to be a wealthy burgomaster and finally a member of Parliament. This Jacke, who could amongst his fellows be “as merry as a pye,” takes his first step towards prosperity by marrying his Dame, “with an apron before her as white as driven snow.” He is no fool and recognizes as well as ever Panurge did the hazard he is running. “Young maids are fickle, so are old women jealous.” They are married and the Dame’s gossips one and all declare that she “was matcht to her sorrow,” protesting that so lusty a young man would never be faithful for long, “she being so ancient.” Forthwith she declares that she will “take him down in his wedding shoes,” and begins neglecting his house and disregarding his wishes, By a ruse she locks him out one cold night and taunts him from a top window. “What sir (quoth she) is it you? have you nothing to doe but dance about the streetes at this time of night, and like a Spright of the Buttery hunt after Crickets?” The next morning, Jacke having been forced to sleep in his old quarters with the prentices, she brings him a hot caudle and they become reconciled, she explaining that “women are like starlings that will burst their gall before they will yield to the Fowler,” but if not too much crossed will not stick, such is their “noble nature,” to pierce their own breasts for those they love. “After this time, they live long together, in most godly, loving and kind sort, till in the end she dyed, leaving her husband wondrous wealthy.”
Jacke now married to please himself. He chose one of his own servants “with hair as yellow as gold, hanging downe behind her . . . curiously combed and pleated.” His establishment became prosperous. He had several hundred men working for him.
Each weeke ten good fat oxen he Spent in his house for certaintie.
“Gentleman am I none, nor the sonne of a Gentleman, but a poore clothier, whose lands are his loomes, having no other Rents but what I get from the backes of little sheepe.”
He becomes a person of such consequence that King Henry VIII, Queen Catherine, Cardinal Wolsey, and the waggish courtier, Will Somers, “with his head more full of knavery than his purse of crownes,” come to visit him at Newbury. The King inspects Jacke’s work-shop and the royal party is entertained in his great hall, the very floor of which is carpeted with choice pieces of the finest wool, “of an Azure colour.”
In the workshop Will Somers makes himself merry at the expense of the “spinsters and carders.” When the King and Queen have gone, because of his sauciness, these weaver maids lay hands on him and tie him up and abuse him in no delicate manner, freeing him only on condition that he relieve them of their task of feeding the swine. “William Somers stript up his sleaves very orderly, and clapt on apron about his motley hosen, and taking a paile served the hogs handsomely.” The courtier took his punishment in good part, on leaving merely casting at his persecutors a chirping verse such as Sir Thomas Urquhart might have thrown together:
My taske is duely done My liberty is wonne, The hogs have eate their crabs Therefore farewell you drabs.
An old gossip now comes to Jacke of Newbery’s young wife and begins to reproach her for being “a greene huswife” in that her folk are “corne fed.” “Believe me were I their Dame, they should have things more sparingly, and then they would thinke it more dainty.” The word that “shorter commons” had been introduced at the serving men’s table came “to the good man’s eare.” “I will not have my people thus pincht of their victualls,” cried he. “Who was it that checkt thee, I pray thee tell mee? was it not your old gossip, dame dainty, Mistresse Trip and goe?”
When the old gossip, Mistress Frankes, comes a second time to visit Jacke of Newbery’s wife, the porter is too sharp for her and, together with the apprentices of the house, makes her drunk in the cellar, finally contriving to have her shamed before the whole town. Shakespeare could hardly have reproduced the talk she gives in her cups with more perfection.
Hang dogs, I have dwelt in this towne these thirty winters.
Why then (quoth they) you have dwelt heere longer than our Master.
Your Master (quoth shee) ? I knew your Master a boy, when he was called Jacke of Newberie, I Jacke, I knew him calld plaine Jacke: and your Mistresse, now shee is rich, and I am poore, but it is no matter, I knew her a draggle tayle girle, marke yee? . . . But heare you my masters, though Mistresse Winchcombe goe in her Hood, I am as good as shee, I care not who tell it her: I spend not my husband’s money on Cherries and Codlings, go too, go too, 1 know what I say well enough: I thanke God I am not drunke: Mistresse Winchcombe, mistresse? No, Nan Winchcombe, I will call her name, plaine Nan.
So important does John Winchcombe ultimately become that he is selected to stand for Parliament. On one of his visits to London a man called Randoll Pert is hired to carry his trunks to the Spread Eagle, where it is his custom to stay. This fellow was a bankrupt draper who owed Jacke of Newbery five hundred pounds. He was in very evil case, having only lately got himself out of prison. He wore a “greasie cap which had so many holes in it, that his haire started through it,” and his wife, to earn a living, “was glad to goe about and wash buckes [soiled linen] at the Thames side.” When Pert reaches the Spread Eagle he suddenly recognises Jacke of Newbery and, remembering his debt, flings down the trunk and runs away down the street. As he runs, his tattered breeches, secured only by one point, “fall about his heales” and, thus shackled, he is overtaken by a serving man, who—and this is one of Deloney’s characteristic touches—”being as windlesse as the other, stood blowing and puffing a great while ere they could speake one to another.”
Master Winchcombe now insists upon his giving him a bill for the five hundred pounds and presently takes him to his lawyer where he has a clause inserted that the money is not due to be paid until such a time as Randoll Pert is elected a sheriff of London, an event which actually comes to pass, Jacke having re-established his fortunes by setting him up again in business in Canweek Street.
The first few chapters of “The Gentle Craft” have to do with the love that Sir Hugh, the patron Saint of shoemakers, had for Saint Winifred. Saint Winifred is to be executed and Sir Hugh gives himself up to suffer the same fate. Certain gentle journeymen shoemakers who had taught him their trade come daily to his prison and thus earn for themselves the title of gentlemen of the gentle craft. At his death Sir Hugh bequeaths to them his bones. Some months later, passing near to the place where his skeleton hangs, they commune amongst themselves as to any possible advantage to be derived from the legacy. They reason that unforeseen virtue is often immanent in unexpected objects.
I will tell you; the braines of a Weasill hath this power experientia docet, that if the powder thereof be mingled with the runnet, wherewith women make their Cheese, no mouse dares touch it: In like manner, the tongue of a water-frog hath such great force in it, that if it be laid upon the breast of anyone sleeping it will cause them to tell whatsoever you shall demand; for by that meanes Dick Piper knew he was a Cuckold. . . . Pimpernel is good against Witchcraft; and because my sister Joan carried alwayes some about her, Mother Bumby could not abide her: Therefore what virtue a dead man’s bones may have, we know not till we have tryed it.
Eventually they shape each of the bones into cobblers’ tools so that for ever afterwards a shoemaker with the instruments of his trade upon his back was said to be carrying Saint Hugh’s bones. “A shoemaker’s son is a Prince born.” Deloney loves to repeat such old sayings. Crispine and Crispianus, two British princes under the persecution of the Roman Emperor, come in disguise to a master shoemaker and ask to be taken on as apprentices. “Necessity,” they declare, “is despised of everyone, and misery is trodden down of many.” They become useful as workmen; and, remembering the admonition of an old journeyman, win favour.
How soever things do frame
Please well thy Master, but chiefly thy Dame.
It falls to the lot of Crispine to do the cobbling at the Court. He is noticed by the Princess Ursula “whose bright eyes entangled her heart with desire of the Shoemaker’s favour.” She questions him: “Art thou not in love, that thou dost smug up thy selfe so finely?” They walk together “in a faire gallerie” and confess the emotions they feel for each other. They arrange to be secretly married by a blind Friar of Canterbury that “in many years had never seen the Sun.” Ursula possessed a key “to one of the garden doors that gave presently to the Park.” The Friar, after “rubbing his elbow and scratching his crown,” performs the ceremony; and alone together in the park at dawn Crispine “pluckt the rose of amorous delight.” Ursula becomes pregnant; and, terrified lest Crispine desert her, cries to him: “O my love, I will rather learn to spin hemp for thy shop-threed, than live without thee in the greatest pleasure.”
Crispine, at his wit’s end what to do, seeks counsel of his Dame, but receives small comfort from that quarter.
What, how now (quoth she) hast thou got a Maid with child? Ah thou whorson villain, thou has undone thy selfe, how wilt thou do now? Thou hast made a faire hand; here is now sixteen pence a week beside sope and candles, beds, shirts, biggins, wastcoats, headbands, swadlebands, crosse-cloths, bibs, tailclouts, mantles, hose, shooes, coats, petticoats, cradle and crickets, and besides that a standing-stole, and a posnet to make the child pap: all this is come upon thee, be sides the charges of her lying-in. O Crispine, Crispine, I am heartily sorry for thee.
Overwhelmed, as well he might be by this outburst, he goes to his master and once more tells his story. “My will running before my wit, I have gotten a Maiden with child.”
The master takes his case in better humour. “Surely thou has drawn on her shooes on Sunday, I may say, thou hast left so good a token behind. . . . Tush man, feare not . . . it is a matter of nothing: but I pray thee, now tell me what wanton wagtaile is it that thou hast clapt thus under the apron?”
They plan that Ursula should lie in at their house. Crispine has misgivings. “Then how shall Ladie Ursula do, for she will straight be missed”—”Tush, thats no matter (quoth his Dame) and missed let her be, until such time as she is in better case to go abroad.” The story ends happily. Ursula and her baby are welcomed by the Emperor, and Crispine’s princely claims are acknowledged.
The second part of “The Gentle Craft” opens with an account of how the maidens of the city of Westminster are all idling after Richard Casteler, a journeyman shoemaker called the Cock of Westminster. Two of these distracted girls, Margaret of the Spread Eagle, and Gillian of the George, happen to meet in the street, the one having been commissioned by her mistress to buy comfits and caraways, and the other a score of quinces and a couple of pomegranates.
Wherefore then doe you not marry (quoth Margaret) ? in my opinion it is the most pleasingst life that may be, when a woman shall have her husband come home and speake in this sort unto her. How now Wife? how dost thou my sweat-heart? what wilt thou have? or what dost thou lacke? and therewithall kindly embracing her, gives her a gentle kisse, saying: speake my prettie mouse, wilt thou have a cup of Claret-wine, White-wine, or Sacke to supper? . . . At last having well refresht themselves, she sets her silver whistle to her mouth, and calls her maid to clear the boord: then going to the fire, he sets her on his knee, and wantonly stroking her cheeke, amourously he chockes her under the chin, fetching many stealing toutches at her rubie lips, an so soone as he heares the Bell ring eight a clocke, he calls her to goe to bed with him. O how sweet doe these words sound in a womans eares? But when they are once close betweene a paire of sheetes, O Gillian then, then.
Why what of that (quoth she) ?
Nay nothing (saith Margaret) but they sleep soundly all night,
Gillian explains that she has not married because “there is a youth in our street that nearer touches my heart . . . but sweare by thy Maidenhead that thou wilt never bewray my liking. . . . What doe you thinke by Richard of the Rose, the wakeful cock of Westminster?”
The two rivals forward the cause of their infatuation as best they can, but Richard meanwhile begins walking out with a young Dutch maid “who could doe divers pretty feates to get her owne living.” “Tell me Robin (said they) where doth the cocke crow now?” Round Robin, the rhyming journeyman, seeing at which door the wind was, sets about to cozen them both. He sends them to wait in vain for Richard in Tuttle Fields, and then presents them with willow garlands.
You pretty soules that forsaken be, Take here the branches of the Willow tree, And sing loves farewell jointly with me.
Long Meg of Westminster soon recovers from her disappointment and, picking up her garland, consoles herself thus: “wherefore is griefe good? can it recall folly past? no: can it helpe a matter remedilesse? no: can it restore losses, or draw us out of danger? no: What then? . . . can it call our friends out of their graves? no: can it restore virginity if we chance to lose our maidenhead? no: . . . Then seeing it is so, hang sorrow. I will never care for them that care not for me, and therefore a Figge for the Cocke of Westminster.”
Gillian has not so tough a nature as her friend and goes to bed broken-hearted. Long Meg comes to visit her. “What now (quoth Margaret) whose Mare is dead? art thou a young wench, faire and comely, and dost thou de-spaire of life? and all for love, and all for love.”
There follow stories of the two famous contemporary shoemakers, Peachie and the Green King. Peachie is so wealthy that he keeps forty men dressed in black capes, and with yellow feathers in their hats, to follow him each Sunday to church. Peachie will stomach no affronts, and successfully fights a duel with two scoffing gentlemen sea captains. “Now a plague on them (quoth Stutely) shall we never be in quiet for these quoystrels? never were we so fer-rited before, swownes we can no sooner look into the streets, but these shoemakers have us by the eares: a pox on it that ever we meddled with the rascals.”
Peachie’s fame spreads far and wide till it reaches the ears of Tom Drum of Petworth, “a very odde fellow,” who immediately takes it into his head to become one of Peachie’s yellow-feathered retainers.
What a sense of spring, what a feeling of the high spirits of youth Deloney has caught in his description of Tom Drum’s irresponsible departure!
And seeing the Sun shine very faire, Tom Drum made no more to doe but suddenly shrouded up S. Hughes bones, and taking downe his pike-staffe, clapt his pack at his back, and called for his Master, who comming into the shop, and seeing his man prepared to be prauncing abroad, demanded what the matter was that he followed not his businesse.
0 Master (quoth he) see you not how sweetly the Sun shines, and how trimly the trees are deckt with green leaves?
Well and how then (quoth his Master) ?
Marry Sir (quoth he) having a great mind to heare the small birds sing, and seeing the weather fitter to walk than to work, I called you forth to take my leave and bid you farewell.
And out into the street goes Tom Drum, and after he has drunk “a Stand of Ale drie” at the Crown tavern away he goes down the high road with his fellows “hallowing and whooping” so long as they can see him.
Thomas of Reading, or Old Cole, is the principal figure in Deloney’s “pleasant Historie of the Sixe worthy Yeomen of the West.” The wealth of Old Cole is sharply impressed upon Henry I when, upon a certain occasion, he meets his waggons coming up to London in a way so narrow “that he with the rest of his traine, were faine to stand as close to the hedge, whilest the carts passed by.”
It was the custom of these jolly clothiers to meet together when they brought their goods to London, and amongst them all none is so merry as Tom Dove from Exeter, “who could not digest his meat without musice, nor drinke wine without women.” The hostess, being “a merry wench,” would oftentimes call in two or three of her neighbours’ wives to keep him company: where, ere they parted, they were made “as pleasant as Pies.” The husbands of these women protest, but with ill success.
“Now gip (quoth they) must we be so tied to our taske, that we may not drinke with our friends? fie, fie upon these yellow hose, will no other die serve your turne? . . . you shall not bridle us so like asses,” and away they go and make this song for Tom Dove’s sake:
Welcome to towne, Tom Dove, Tom Dove, The merriest man alive Thy company still we love, we love, God grant thee well to thrive.
The tavern these worthies choose to stay in is Bosome’s Inn which belongs to Old Bosome, who was lately married to “a young wife as wily as she was wanton.” One of the northern clothiers, Cutbert of Kendall, becomes enamoured of this young woman and is often heard to say that “he marvelled such a grave ancient man would match himselfe with such a young giglot.” To cover the affections that the two feel for each other Cutbert in public often falls to abusing the young hostess with such flouts as “God sends meate, and the devill sends cookes.” A day comes, however, when he pays his address to her in quite another fashion, old Bosome being safely out of the house, “over-seing his haymakers.”
While they were singing . . . , her husband being on a sudden come home, stood secretly in a corner and heard all, and blessing himselfe with both his hands, said O ab-hominable dissimulation . . . can you braule together and sing together? Well (quoth he) I will let them alone, to see a little more of their knavery. Never did Cat watch Mouse so narrowly, as I will watch them.
He calls again for his nag “to ride to field”; but, returning almost immediately, he discovers the two of them together in one of his warehouses. His menservants lay hold of Cut-bert and bind him tight, while old Bosome draws him up in a basket to the smoky “louer” of his hall and leaves him there for twenty hours “to the end he may have a better stomacke to eate his dinner than to use dalliance,” and there he remains until his fellow clothiers cajole the Prince himself to petition for his release. “Let me intreate you (quoth the Prince) to release him: and if ever hereafter you catch him in the corne, clappe him in the pownd.”
Deloney’s description of the night before Old Cole’s murder at the Inn may very well have supplied Shakespeare with some hints for Macbeth. There is a strange dramatic power in these pages. In the tragic end of Old Cole, Deloney makes us feel the movement of the dark wings of fate over the lives of men, of men unable to foresee, unable to escape from their individual destiny. There is a sombre, an almost religious, intensity about some of the sentences. Three times the old man had been saved by accidental happenings, but at last he arrives alone at the fatal hostel at “Colebrook.” “Hard it is to escape the ill fortunes whereunto a man is allotted.” As he approaches the yard of the Crane Tavern, “his nose burst out suddenly bleeding.” Then in a melancholy mood his mind turns to the misfortunes that have overtaken his old friend, Tom Dove, “who by his jollity and good fellowship had brought himself greatly behind hand.” He sits down to pen a letter to him, but instead, without conscious volition, in a kind of doomed trance, he writes hjs last will and testament, bequeathing to Dove sufficient wealth for the restoration of his fortunes. Having finished with his writing, he sits sadly back in his chair and without apparent cause bursts forth weeping to think “what a coyl” his little daughter had made when he had left his home. His host and hostess with murderous intent ask him pleasantly whether he does not think it is time for him to go to bed. “No (said he) although I am heavy, I have no mind to go to bed at all.”
Certain musicians, as was the custom in Elizabethan times when anyone of consequence was known to be at an Inn, come to play before his chamber.
This musicke comes very well (said Cole) and when he had listned a while thereunto, he said, Methinks these instruments sound like the ring of S. Mary Overies belles, but the base drownes all the rest: and in my eare it goes like a bell that rings a forenoone’s knell, for God’s sake let them leave off, and beare them this simple reward.
The musitians being gone, his hoste asked him if now it would please him to go to bed; for (quoth he) it is welneare eleven of the clock. . . .
With that Cole beholding his host and hostesse very earnestly, began to start backe, saying, what aile you to look so like pale death? good Lord! what have you done, that your hands are thus bloody?
What, my hands (said his host) ? Why, you may see they are neither bloudy nor foule: either your eies do greatly dazell, or else fancies of a troubled mind do delude you. . . .
Good Lord (said Cole) I am not sicke, I praise God, but such an alteration I find in my selfe as I never did before. . . .
With that the scritch owle cried piteously, and anone after the night raven sate croking hard by his window.