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Introduction | Table
of Contents | Text | Notes |
Glossary | Appendix I | Appendix
II | Home
THE AUTHOR.÷Thomas Dekker, the author of the Gull's Hornbook was, while not
perhaps one of the greatest, certainly one of the most prolific writers of his time.
Poet, playwright, pamphleteer, and moralist, no subject and no style of writing seems
to have come amiss to him. Born however, as he was, in London and brought up there,
forced apparently from his youth to earn a living, harder then than now, by his pen,
he had neither time, opportunity, nor perhaps learning to range far in the search
for material. He turned by preference to what was nearest at hand, to what was every
day before his eyes÷the life of his contemporaries. There is little, if any, of his
best work which does not deal in some way with the London in which he lived.
And it is just this which makes what remains of his writings, his prose especially,
so valuable to us at present. In the Gull's Hornbook and in other works of
a similar nature we can see, when we make due allowance for the exaggeration of the
satirist, how Londoners really lived and behaved three hundred years ago. We feel
in his descriptions the sure touch of complete and minute knowledge. In the very
modernness of the humours portrayed we are sensible of their truth to nature. Change
but the setting and the "Gulls" of the Hornbook are but a slightly
coarser variant of a certain class of townsman of to day, and this may well satisfy
us of the accuracy of the whole picture.
Of Dekker's life little is known. It was in all probability a hard hand to mouth
sort of existence whose only incident was an occasional visit to the debtor's prison,
"that university" as it is called in a play written by him in conjunction
with Middleton, "where men pay more dear for their wit than anywhere."
Born about 1570, the early years of his literary life were spent for the most part
in revising old plays or in working at new ones in collaboration with one or other
of the well known dramatists of his time.
Drayton, Wilson, Chettle, Day, Webster, Munday, Middleton and Jonson are but a few
of those with whom he joined. The fact that between 1598 and 1602 he wrote eight
plays of his own, besides collaborating in some twenty five others, shows the extraordinary
facility with which he worked.
In 1598 he came into notice as the author of an indifferent but very popular poem
called Canaan's Calamity. It is a description of the fall of Jerusalem, a
favourite subject of Elizabethan writers and moralists. The treatment is entirely
commonplace and gives little indication of the poetic talent which his plays show
him to have certainly possessed.
With the latter we are not concerned here. The Shoemaker's Holiday, Old Fortunatus,
and Satiromastix deserve mention, though very different opinions as to the
value of his dramatic work have been expressed by critics. It may be said in general
that while almost all contain detached passages of great delicacy and beauty, the
effect of the whole is often marred by hasty and careless workmanship.
His first important prose work was The Wonderful Year 1603, a vivid description
of the ravages of the plague in London during that year. In 1606 he published The
Seven Deadly Sins of London, which presents under the form of an allegory a lurid
picture of contemporary life. Dekker calls it on the title page "Opus septem
dierum"; if it was in truth but a week's work it is an extraordinary instance
of rapidity of composition. In the same year appeared News from Hell (reissued
in the following year as A Knight's Conjuring). This, he tells us, was written
in imitation of "ingenious, ingenuous, fluent, facetious T. Nash," and
is in some measure a sequel to the latter's Piers Penniless his Supplication to
the Devil. Passing over some less important pieces, we come in 1608 to The
Bellman of London: Bringing to Light the Most Notorious Villanies that are now Practised
in the Kingdom. This book, which the numerous editions show to have been very
popular, continued the series of descriptions of rogues
and vagabonds, their tricks and their habits, of which the most notable were Harman's
Caveat for Cursitors (1566) and Robert Greene's "Coney Catching"
pamphlets (1591 2); indeed from the first of these books Dekker borrowed no small
part of his material Later in the same year he published a second part under the
title of Lanthorn and Candle light, or the Bell man's Second Night's Walk
(republished with considerable additions in 1612). In 1609 appeared The Raven's
AImanac, a parody on the terrible prognostications of almanac makers, and the
book which is here reprinted, The Gull's Hornbook. His other prose works are
of less interest; several of them are of a religious turn, for Dekker, in common
with Greene and most other writers of the period, if, probably, not over particular
in his manner of life, had at least a marvellous facility in repentance.
From 1613 to 1616 Dekker seems to have been confined in the king's bench prison;
the reason is not known but is more likely to have been debt than anything else,
unless perhaps it was thought that, for a law abiding person, he possessed an unreasonably
exact knowledge of the innumerable methods of swindling. In 1622, in conjunction
with Massinger, he wrote The Virgin Martyr, which shows him at his best as
a dramatist. In a tract published in 1625, entitled A Rod for Run-aways, he
describes the state of terror caused by the visitation of the plague in that year,
thus returning to one of his earliest subjects. In 1628 and 1629 Dekker composed
the Lord Mayor's Pageants, namely, Britannia's Honour and London's Tempe,
a fact which probably indicates that towards the end of his life he was in somewhat
better circumstances, for such work as this seems generally to have been given to
men of some recognised standing. His last work was probably the republication of
Lanthorn and Candle light, in 1637. He is supposed to have died shortly after.
One of the best known incidents of Dekker's life was his quarrel with Ben Jonson,
It is an interesting and curious piece of literary history, but I have no space to
discuss it here. The leading facts are these: after having collaborated with Dekker
in the production of
two plays, in 1599, Jonson suddenly attacked him in Every Man out of His Humour
and Cynthia's Revels (1600), and again with more virulence in The Poetaster
(1602). The cause of the quarrel is quite uncertain. Jonson's own words of excuse
that he had been provoked by his opponents "with their petulant styles on every
stage" are too vague to help us much. Shortly after, Dekker answered in the
Satiromastix, a badly constructed, but in some scenes very amusing, play, and with
this the quarrel seems to have been tacitly dropped, though so late as 1619 Jonson
still considered, as is shown by his conversations with Drummond, that Dekker was
a " knave."
The best and most complete summary of all that is known regarding Dekker is to be
found in Mr. A. H. Bullen's article on him in the Dictionary of National Biography.
To this I must refer readers desirous of more detailed information.
SOURCES.÷The Gull's Hornbook, as regards general tone and plan, is founded
on the Grobianus of Frederick Dedekind (c. 1525 1598). This work, a poem in
Latin elegiac verse, was first published in two books in 1549, and again, in a much
revised form and enlarged to three books, in 1552. lt had an immense popularity,
at least on the Continent of Europe, as is shown by the numerous editions which were
published both of the original and of a contemporary German translation.
"Grobianus"* (from the German grob÷rude, boorish) is the name of
a supposed ignoramus to whom the poem is addressed, and to whom are given directions
as to his conduct under a variety of circumstances, these directions being calculated
to increase his offensiveness to the highest possible limit; it is in short a kind
of satire in the imperative mood. This is not, of course, the first employment
* The name " Grobianus " seems to be borrowed from Sebastian
Brant's famous poem Das Narren Schiff, in the course of which he describes
the worship paid to a new Saint "Grobian," the patron of boors. It is found
later in several works of the period besides Dedekind's.
Of such a mode of correction; it was probably from the beginning of time as familiar
in the nursery as it is at the present day, but never has an attempt to make a literary
use of it had half the success of Grobianus; a success which, it must be confessed,
seems to have been due rather to the peculiar taste of the readers than to any merit
in the work itself.
We find, not without satisfaction, that its popularity was far less in England than
abroad. While the book was no doubt well known in this country, we meet with but
few allusions to it, and even the translation into English which was published by
one "R.F." in 1605, under the title of The Schoole of Slovenrie: Or,
Cato turnd wrong side outward, seems to have attracted little attention.
From Dekker's preface to the Reader, we learn that he had at one time, presumably
before the above mentioned book was published, meditated a complete translation of
his own, but not greatly liking the subject (or rather perhaps finding himself anticipated)
he "altered the shape, and of a Dutchman [i.e., German] fashioned a mere Englishman."
The correspondence is rather in general tone than in detail, though there are many
borrowings, especially in the early part of the book; but almost all that is noteworthy÷for
example the chapter on the behaviour of gallants in a theatre÷is Dekker's own. And
then too there is a great difference between the Gull and Grobianus. The latter is
a mere boor, the former is much more than this: he is a boor posing as a wit, a fool
qualifying for a sharper. Dedekind's work is for the most part merely disgusting;
it is concerned far more with such personal matters as the cleanliness and control
of the body than with behaviour in society. From Grobianus an anthropologist
wishing to make himself familiar with the manners and customs of natural man might
conceivably learn something; the historian who desires to form an idea of German
society in the sixteenth century will learn nothing or next to nothing.
In order to give a general idea of the character of this work I print in an appendix
the first chapter of Book I from the translation of 1605, this chapter being chosen
as the one from which nearly all Dekker's borrowings are taken.
A new translation of Grobianus, by R. Bull, appeared in 1739 under the title
of Grobianus; or the Compleat Booby. It is dedicated to Dean Swift, to whose
style of irony as exemplified in his "Directions to Servants " and "Polite
Conversation" it bears no slight affinity, at least in method if not in execution.
For an excellent account of the history of Grobianus see Professor Herford's Literary
Relations of England and Germany in the Sixteenth Century, Chapter VII.
EDITIONS.÷The Gull's Hornbook was first published in 1609, in quarto. There
is no entry of it in the Stationers' Register. The book was probably not among
its author's most popular writings, for, so far as is known, no other edition was
published during his lifetime; indeed, if we except the publication next mentioned,
it was not reprinted for more than two hundred years.
In 1674 Dekker's book was re issued with alterations intended to bring it up to date,
apparently as an original work, by one Sam. Vincent. The title is The Young Gallant's
Academy, or, Directions how he should behave himself in all Places and Company.
Vincent prefixed a long dedication in which he says "I have . . . followed the
humorous Tides of this Age, and like Democritus have fallen a laughing at
all the world, seeing it doth nothing but mock it self. Sir, you have here the behaviour
and Character of a Fop composed, to shew the Apish Fashions, and ridiculous
Humours and Conversations of some of our Town Gallants."
The changes made by Vincent are for the most part trifling, consisting merely of
such substitutions as "a Flaxen Peruke and a pair of Pantaloons" for "a
gilt spur and a ruffled boot," the fashions of his day for those of Dekker's.
But in two cases his revision is
of interest: he omits altogether the chapter dealing with the conduct of a "gull"
in Paul's Walks, thus showing that, with Old St. Paul's, the use of the sacred
edifice as a general meeting place of gallants had passed away, and he rewrites a
great part of the chapter on the theatre, in order to bring it into accordance with
the changed conditions of the Restoration stage.
As Vincent's book is scarce, it seemed worth while to reprint this chapter as an
appendix. A comparison with Dekker's version will show how much and in what way theatrical
arrangements in the second half of the seventeenth century differed from those of
To complicate the imposture, Vincent prefixed an "Address to the Reader"
the first half of which is taken from Dekker's "Address" before his News
from Hell, and the rest from that prefixed to the same author's Jests to make
you Merry. Vincent's share is but half a dozen connecting words in the middle,
and the concluding paragraph. Whatever may be said of Vincent, he cannot have been
wholly ignorant of Jacobean literature.
The Gull's Hornbook was reprinted in modern spelling in 1812, under the editorship
of Dr. Nott, who added an introduction of twelve pages giving a life of the author
and an elaborate list of his works. Nott's annotations are very full, indeed, so
full that comparatively little has been left to be done by the present editor. The
text is on the whole very correct.
This edition having been issued at a high price (£1. 16s.), for subscribers
only, was difficult to obtain, and in 1862 a cheap reprint of the text alone was
published at Islington by William M'Mullen. No editor's name is given, but as Mr.
Hazlitt says, in his Handbook, that in this year an edition was published
by Halliwell, and as there seems to have been no other, I presume that he was responsible
for it. Two changes proposed by Nott were adopted and a few emendations suggested.
Nott's text was again reprinted in 1872, under the editorship of Charles Hindley,
in the Old Book Collector's Miscellany, Part 7. (Vol. II.). In this edition
there are a certain number of notes, mostly taken from the older edition. The statement
that Nott's reprint had been compared with the original is not borne out by the fact
that his errors remain uncorrected, even an important one in the first paragraph.
This edition is by no means to be relied on.
The work was again reprinted, this time in the spelling of the original quarto, in
Vol. II. of the edition of Dekker's Non-Dramatic Works, issued by A. B. Grosart in
1884. This text is, on the whole, accurate, but is not entirely free from serious
slips. A very few notes, mostly taken from Nott, are to be found in the Glossarial
Finally, it is included, again in the old spelling, in Professor Saintsbury's Elizabethan
& Jacobean Pamphlets (The Pocket Library of English Literature), 1892. The
notes are few and without importance.
In the present edition the spelling and punctation have been modernised, as also
the use of capital letters and italics. The British Museum copy of the edition of
1609 (C. 27. b. 23) has been used as the basis of the text.
It should be mentioned that a large number of the explanations in the glossary have
been taken from Dr. Nott's edition; it has not, however, been thought necessary to
distinguish them as his when they contain only such matter as may be found in the
ordinary books of reference. Further, those notes to which his name is attached have,
in several cases, been shortened; and it has been necessary to omit a large amount
of illustrative material, some of it, indeed, bearing rather remotely on the subject,
which is to be found in his edition. The Gull's Hornbook is one of those works
the full annotation of which would require a space many times as great as that occupied
by the text itself.
The initial letters to the several chapters are reproduced from Nott's edition.*
[* The initial letters have been omitted. LDH]