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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

V. The Progress of Social Literature in Tudor Times

§ 17. Andrew Boorde

The growth of cosmopolitan ideas found its expression in a collection of essays on the chief nationalities and kingdoms of Europe composed by the traveller and physician Andrew Boorde. This work was finished by 1542, but was not published until 1547, under the significant title of The Fyrste Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge. Again we find a work of considerable merit probably intended to preface a universal encyclopaedia and yet produced for a public which had not completely dissociated popular literature from the grotesqueries of the former age. Each chapter begins with a prologue in doggerel verse, spoken by a typical member of the country under discussion, and illustrated by one of Copland’s stock woodcuts. These verses are intended to portray, and, in some cases, to caricature, what is typical of each nation. Thus, the Englishman stands naked, musing on what clothes he shall wear; the Fleming cheerfully admits that he is sometimes “drunken as a rat”; the Cornishman expresses himself in half intelligible English; the Bohemian stands by Wyclif and cares nothing for the pope; the Venetian is represented with money to pacify the Turks and the Jews. But the Introduction is not merely a forerunner of the modern cartoon. Verse and prose are intermingled as in Thomas’s Historye of Italye; the doggerel prologues are followed by prose descriptions in which the author discusses the geographical situation, the produce and the “naturall dysposicion,” that is to say, the culture, religion and customs, of the inhabitants. He ends each enquiry with information on the coinage, sometimes with a few specimens of the language, and, in one or two cases, with directions for travel. Like much of the popular literature of the sixteenth century, the Introduction stands between two ages; it still retains the coarse laughter and credulity of the past. Boorde believes that Merlin built Stonehenge, and gravely records the legend of the White Cock and Hen of St. Domingo. But, at the same time, he has the observation of an age conscious of progress. He notices the advance of civilisation in different lands, and he understands the importance of a country’s natural resources. The economical situation interests him; he observes that England is the land of capital, and that Spain depends on her sea trade for wealth. He has an eye for the poverty of people who, like the Welsh, are still sunk in the squalor and ignorance of the Middle Ages. Anything striking about the government attracts him, and the religious situation frequently receives comment. And yet he has the individualist’s love of peculiarities. He notices the Irishman’s device for cooking, he reads that the Flemings eat frogs’ legs and that the Genoese are high in the instep.

Besides satisfying men’s curiosity in foreign lands, Boorde put his medical knowledge and experience within reach of the uninitiated, by A Compendyous Regyment or a Dyetary of Helth. This treatise on the cultivation of health, one of the earliest composed in English, shows how quickly knowledge was spreading through the middle classes. It was an age when the government insisted on quarantine but neglected sanitation, and when Harrison believed that the soot and smoke of chimneyless houses hardened the constitution. Boorde was one of the first to see how greatly sanitation influenced the well-being of man. The first part of his Dyetary, really a separate treatise, shows how the secret of health is to choose a convenient site for one’s house. But the most striking feature of his system deals with the reaction of the mind on the body. In placing his house, a man should choose a congenial prospect,

  • for and the eye be not satysfyed, the mynde cannot be contented. And the mynde cannot be contented the herte cannot be pleased: if the herte and mynde be not pleased nature doth abhor. And yf nature do abhor, mortyfycacyon of the vytall and anymall and spyrytuall powers do consequently folowe.
  • In the second part of his treatise, Boorde gives practical advice on such matters as sleeping, exercise and dress. He includes an exhaustive examination of diet; but most of his purely medical knowledge is still traditional. Yet, in scope and method, the book is an effort to shake off the ignorance of the past and apply to practical life the learning gathered in universities.