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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

§ 25. The Gentle Craft

The Gentle Craft, the third work, consists of a series of tales, dedicated to the shoemaking cult. The first two stories, Sir Hugh and Crispine and Crispinus, relate to early and noble patrons of the gentle craft; but these works are not in Deloney’s best style. They aim at romantic and Euphuistic effects, and the author, obviously, is uneasy under the greatness of his themes. The third story, Simon Eyre, moves into the actual, and relates the career of the philanthropic founder of Leadenhall (c. 1450), who, from a shoemaker’s apprentice, became lord mayor. A comic underplot is added, in which a Frenchman and a Dutchman clumsily intrigue in broken English for the hand of a serving-maid, and this forms an excellent counterpart to Simon’s stately progress through ceremonies and banquets. The principal figure in the next story, Richard Casteler, is that of Long Meg of Westminster, a serving-maid, whose rattling deeds of 1540 or thereabouts had, before 1582, become the subject of both ballad and pamphlet. The story consists of a series of attempts made by Meg and her rival, Gillian, to win the love of the hero-apprentice. A most effective situation is brought about when the two maids arrive at the same hour at the supposed trysting-place in Tuttle Fields. They each awkwardly offer an awkward explanation for their presence there, but each sturdily refuses to leave the field; and

  • in this humour, they sat them down, and sometimes they stalkt round about the field, till at last the watch met with them, who, contrary to Gillian’s mind, took pains to bring them home together. At what time they gave one another such privie flouts that the watchmen took no little delight to hear it.
  • The upshot of it all is that the desirable Richard marries neither, whereupon Meg indulges in a soliloquy reminiscent of Falstaff:
  • “Wherefore is griefe good?” asks the disappointed maid. “Can it recall folly past? No. Can it help a matter remediless? No. What then? Can grief make unkind men courteous? No. Then wherefore should I grieve? Nay, seeing it is so, hang sorrow! I will never care for them that care not for me.”
  • The next story, Master Peachey and his men, gives a breezy account of the cudgelling administered by the sturdy master-shoemaker to certain insolent court bullies, and then goes on to describe the rebuff experienced at the hands of a widow by the journeyman Tom Drum, who, previously, had been an unfailing diplomat in affairs of the heart. Tom’s character is touched with exquisite humour, while he has a pretty turn of verse, which he exploits on his road to London, as follows:

  • The primrose in the grene forest,
  • The violets they be gay,
  • The double dazies and the rest
  • That trimly deck the way,
  • Doth move the spirits with brave delight
  • Who beauty’s darlings be,
  • With hey tricksie, trim go tricksie
  • Under the greenwood tree.
  • The last story is concerned with tavern-haunters and the decayed race of minstrels. In it appears the figure of Anthony Now-Now, one of the last of his tribe, from whose lips come the following lines with their significant burden:

  • When should a man shew himself gentle and kind?
  • When should a man comfort the sorrowful mind?
  • O Anthony, now, now, now.
  • ….….
  • When is the best time to drink with a friend?
  • When is it meetest my money to spend?
  • O Anthony, now, now, now.