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

XVI. Elizabethan Prose Fiction

§ 22. Thomas Deloney

More than ordinary interest is, however, attached to the realistic prose fiction of Thomas Deloney, for he is the last of the Elizabethans to come into his inheritance. As a novelist, he is, practically, a recent discovery, though his work of the pamphlet and ballad kind had previously been recognised. But, apart from this, his prose tales possess considerable interest in themselves, no less for their attractive narrative, their humour and colouring, than for the fact that they help to fill in that picture of contemporary life, which had been outlined, only in part, by the other writers. Elizabethan prose fiction had, hitherto, been mainly concerned with the wit and romance of rogues and gallants; Deloney, as the painter of the trading classes, discovers the humour, and even the romance, of the prosaic citizen.

Born in 1543, Deloney seems to have worked for some time as a silk weaver at Norwich, but, by 1586, he had moved to London, and, before 1596, had written some fifty ballads. In this latter year, however, he incurred official anger for introducing the queen into one of his ballads in “fond and indecent sort,” and was compelled, in consequence, to seek temporary hiding. With his ballads now silenced as well as his looms, he turned his attention to literary work of another kind, and, having produced, between 1596 and 1600, his three prose narratives, before the century closed he “dyed poorely” and was “honestly buried.”

His three works are built up on a common plan; a framework is constructed out of historical or legendary material, and into this are then worked bourgeois descriptions of contemporary life; each narrative, moreover, is devoted to the glorification of a craft, and the craft is eulogised either by relating the story of some successful captain of industry, or by glorying in the less tangible forms of its earliest patrons.