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

X. George Gascoigne

§ 2. The Posies

Of this edition, very few copies remain, and much interesting matter which appeared only in it has been but lately put within the reach of the ordinary student. Unusual precautions were taken, even for that day, to free the real author of the enterprise from responsibility. An anonymous H. W. delivers to an anonymous A. B. to print a written book given to him by his friend G. T. “wherin he had collected divers discourses and verses, invented uppon sundrie occasions, by sundrie gentlemen” (1, 490). G. T. (who might be Gascoigne’s friend George Turbervile, but is much more likely to be Gascoigne himself) thus takes the place of the editor of the volume, although he protests that, after having “with no small entreatie obteyned of Master F. J. and sundry other toward young gentlemen, the sundry copies of these sundry matters,” he gives them to H. W. for his private recreation only, and not for publication. G. T. does not even know “who wrote the greatest part of” the verses, “for they are unto me but a posie presented out of sundry gardens” (1, 499). But, when the second edition appears in 1575 under the poet’s own name, A. B., G. T., H. W. and F. J. all dissolve into Gascoigne himself. The “divers discourses and verses … by sundrie gentlemen” all now appear as the “Posies of George Gascoigne,” G. T.’s comment on the verses of Master F. J. is printed as from Gascoigne’s own hand, Gascoigne admits that the original publication was by his consent and a close examination of the two editions leads to the conclusion that the first was prepared for the press and written from beginning to end by Gascoigne himself, printer’s preface and all. The following sentence in “The Printer to the Reader” (1, 476)

  • And as the venemous spider wil sucke poison out of the most holesome herbe, and the industrious Bee can gather hony out of the most stinking weede
  • is characteristic of Gascoigne’s early euphuistic style, of which we have several examples inserted by him in his translation of Ariosto’s Suppositi (1, 197). And when Gascoigne comes to write in his own name an epistle “To the reverende Divines” for the second edition, from which the printer’s address to the reader is omitted, he repeats this very simile (1, 6):
  • I had alledged of late by a right reverende father, that although indeede out of everie floure the industrious Bee may gather honie, yet by proofe the Spider thereout also sucks mischeevous poyson.
  • He also adopts with the slightest possible emendations the introductory prefaces to the various poems for which G. T. took the responsibility in the edition of 1573. All this is very characteristic of the time and of the man. His eagerness for publication belongs to the age to come, his anxiety first to disown it and then to excuse it is of his own and an earlier time.

    Even in 1575, Gascoigne is still more anxious to preserve what a modern athlete would call his “amateur standing.” He protests that he “never receyved of the Printer, or of anye other, one grote or pennie for the first Copyes of these Posyes” (1, 4) and he describes himself, not as an author, but as “George Gascoigne Esquire professing armes in the defence of Gods truth.” In commemoration of his exploits in the Low Countries, he adopted a new motto, Tam Marti quam Mercurio, and this double profession of arms and letters is also indicated in the device which adorns the Steele Glas portrait of 1576—an arquebus with powder and shot on one side, and books with pen and ink on the other. In the frontis-piece to The Tale of Hemetes the heremyte, Gascoigne is pictured with a pen in his ear and a sword by his side, a book in his right hand and a spear in his left.

    The Hundreth sundrie Flowers gave offence, Gascoigne himself tells us, first by reason of “sundrie wanton speeches and lascivious phrases” and, secondly, by doubtful construction and scandal (1, 3). The author professed that he had amended these defects in the edition of 1575. A comparison of the two texts shows that only a few minor poems were omitted completely (1, 500–2) and some of these, apparently, by accident; while certain objectionable passages and phrases in The Adventures of Master F. J. were struck out. It was evidently this prose tale which gave the chief offence, on both the grounds stated. Gascoigne protested “that there is no living creature touched or to be noted therby” (1, 7); but his protest is not convincing. According to G. T. “it was in the first beginning of his writings, as then he was no writer of any long continuaunce” (1, 495) and the story apparently recounts an intrigue of Gascoigne’s youth, as Dan Bartholmew of Bathe one of his “middle age.” In the second edition, the prose story is ascribed to an unknown Italian writer Bartello, and in some new stanzas added to Dan Bartholmew at the end the following occurs:

  • Bartello he which writeth ryding tales,
  • Bringes in a Knight which cladde was all in greene,
  • That sighed sore amidde his greevous gales,
  • And was in hold as Bartholmew hath beene.
  • But (for a placke) it maye therein be seene,
  • That, that same Knight which there his griefes begonne,
  • Is Batts owne Fathers Sisters brothers Sonne.
  • In this roundabout fashion, quite characteristic of Gascoigne (cf. 1, 405), he lets the reader know that Bartello and Bartholmew are the same as the green knight; and the green knight, as we know from The fruite of Fetters, in which Bartello is again given as authority, is Gascoigne himself. He did not improve matters in this respect by the addition to the second issue of marginal notes, evidently intended rather to heighten curiosity than to allay it. With reference to his rival in Dan Bartholmew, he notes at the side “These thinges are mistical and not to bee understoode but by Thaucthour him selfe,” and, after this, the entry “Another misterie” frequently occurs. Fleay has disregarded the author’s warning, and has endeavoured to identify the persons indicated, not very satisfactorily. The fact is that by a “misterie” Gascoigne simply means something scandalous. When in his Voyage into Hollande he casts reflections on the chastity of the Dutch nuns, he pulls himself up with the remark “that is a misterie”; and the husband in The Adventures of Master F. J., who catches his wife in flagrante delicto, forbids the handmaid to speak any word “of this mistery.”

    The edition of 1573 is of further interest because it gives a list of the author’s works up to that date (1, 475) apparently arranged in chronological order, beginning with Supposes, Jocasta and The Adventures of Master F. J., all known to be early works, and ending with the Voyage into Hollande, written in 1573, and Dan Bartholmew, which is left unfinished. The edition of 1575 completes this poem, and adds Dulce bellum inexpertis and The fruite of Fetters, recounting Gascoigne’s experiences of war and imprisonment in Holland. Die groene Hopman, as the Dutch called him, was not well regarded by the burghers, and the dislike was mutual. Gascoigne ascribes the distrust of those to whom, according to his own account, he rendered valiant and repeated service, to a love affair with a lady in the Spanish camp; but it was, perhaps, also due to his eagerness to make himself acquainted with the burghers’ affairs and to the “Cartes … Mappes … and Models” which he offers to lay before lord Grey of Wilton in explanation of “Hollandes State” (1, 363). Gascoigne’s poems on his adventures in the Low Countries throw some remarkable sidelights on the relations between the burghers and their English allies.