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PIERCE PENILESSE HIS SUPPLICATION TO THE
BY THOMAS NASHE.
(THOMAS NASHE was one of the ablest of the professional men of letters in Shakespeare's time — pamphleteer, poet, and playwright. He was born about 1564, and graduated at St. John's College, Cambridge, 1585. He died about 1601. Of his numerous works, including a war of satire with Gabriel Harvey in which his wit and gayety are conspicuous, the “Supplication of Pierce Penilesse " is best remembered.]
HAVING spent manio yeeres in studying how to live, and livde a long time without mony: having tired my youth with follie, and surfetted my minde with vanitie, I began at length to looke backe to repentaunce, & addresse my endevors to prosperitie: But all in vaine, I sate up late, and rose earely, contended with the colde, and conversed with scarcitie: for all my labours turned to losse, my vulgar Muse was despised and neglected, my paines not regarded, or slightly rewarded, and I my selfe (in prime of my best wit) laid open to povertie. Whereupon (in a malecontent humor) I accused my fortune, raild on my patrones, bit my pen, rent my papers, & ragde in all points like a mad man. In which agony tormenting my selfe a long time, I grew by degrees to a milder discontent: and pausing a while over my standish, I resolved in verse to paynt forth my passion: which, best agreeing with the vaine of my unrest, I began to complaine in this sort:
Why is't damnation to dispaire and dye,
When life is my true happinesse disease ?
The faultie meanes, that might my paine appease.
Ah worthlesse Wit, to traine me to this woe,
Deceitfull Artes, that nourish Discontent:
Vaine thoughts adieu, for now I will repent.
Forgive me, God, although I curse my birth,
And ban the aire, wherein I breathe a Wretch:
And I am quite undone through promise-breach.
Without redresse complaynes my carelesse verse,
And Mydas-eares relent not at my moane:
Mongst them that will be mov'd when I shall groane.
These Rymes thus abruptly set downe, I tost my imagination a thousand waies, to see if I could finde any meanes to relieve my estate: But all my thoughts consorted to this conclusion, that the world was uncharitable, & I ordained to be miserable. Thereby I grew to consider how many base men that wanted those partes which I had, enjoyed content at will, & had wealth at command: I calde to minde a Cobler, that was worth five hundred pound, an Hostler that had built a goodly Inne, & might dispense forty pounds yerely by his Land, a Carre-man in a lether pilche, that had whipt out a thousand pound out of his horse taile: and have I more witte than all these (thought I to my selfe)? am I better borne ? am I better brought up? yea, and better favored ? and yet I am a begger? What is the cause ? how am I crost, or whence is this curse?
Even from hence, that men that should employ such as I am, are enamoured of their own wits, and think whatever they do is excellent, though it be never so scurvie ; that Learning (of the ignorant) is rated after the value of the inke and paper : and a Scrivener better paid for an obligation, than a Scholler for the best Poeme he can make; that everie grosse brainde Idiot is suffered to come into print, who if he set foorth a Pamphlet of the praise of Pudding-pricks, or write a Treatise of Tom Thumme, or yo exploits of Untrusse; it is bought up thicke & three-folde, when better things lie dead. How then can we chuse but be needy, when ther are so many droans amongst us? or ever prove rich, y toile a whole yeare for faire lookes ?
Gentle Sir Philip Sidney, thou knewst what belongd to a Scholler, thou knewest what paines, what toile, what travell, conduct to perfection: wel couldst thou give every Vertue his encouragement, every Art his due, every writer his desert : cause none more vertuous, witty, or learned than thy selfe.
But thou art dead in thy grave, and hast left too few successors of thy glory, too few to cherish the Sonn of the Muses, or water those budding hopes with their plentie, which thy bountie erst planted.
Beleeve me, Gentlemen, for some crosse mishappes, have taught me experience, there is not that strickt observation of honour, which hath bene heretofore. Men of great calling take it of merite, to have their names eternizde by Poets; and whatsoever pamphlet or dedication encounters them, they put it up their sleeves, and scarce give him thankes that presents it. Much better is it for those golden Pens to raise such ungratefull Peasants from the Dung-hill of obscuritie, and make them equal in fame to the Worthies of olde, when their doting selfe-love shall challenge it of dutie, and not onely give them nothing themselves, but impoverish liberalitie in others.
This is the lamentable condition of our Times, that men of Arte must seek almes of Cormorants, & those that deserve best, be kept under by Dunces, who count it a policie to keep them bare, because they should follow their bookes the better: thinking belike, that, as preferment hath made themselves idle, that were earst painfull in meaner places, so it wold likewise slacken the endevours of those Students, that as yet strive to excell in hope of advauncement. A good policie to suppresse superfluous liberalitie. But, had it beene practised when they were promoted, the Yeomandry of the Realme had been better to passe than it is, and one Droane should not have driven so manie Bees from their hony-combes.
I, I, weele give loosers leave to talke: it is no matter what Sic probo and his pennilesse companions prate, whilest we have the gold in our coffers: this is it that will make a knave an honest man, & my neighbour Cramptons stripling a better Gentleman than his Grand sier. O it is a trim thing when Pride, the sonne, goes before, & Shame, the father, followes after. Such presidents there are in our Comon-wealth a great many ; not so much of them whome learning & Industrie hath exalted, (whome I prefer before Genus et proavos) as of Carterly upstarts, that out-face Towne & Countrey in their velvets, when Sir Rowland Russet-coat, their dad, goes sagging every day in his round gascoynes of white cotton, & hath much a do (poore pennie-father) to keepe his unthrift elbowes in reparations.
Marry, happy are they, say I, that have such fathers to worke for them, whilst they plaie: for where other men turne over manie leaves to get bread and cheese in their olde age, and studie twentie yeares to distill golde out of incke, our yoong maisters doo nothing but devise how to spend and aske counsaile of the wine and capons, how they may quickliest consume their patrimonies. As for me, I live secure from all such perturbations: for (thankes bee to God) I am vacuus viator and care not, though I meete the Commissioners of New-marketheath at high midnight, for any crosses, Images, or pictures that I carry about mee, more than needes.
Than needes, quoth I, nay, I would be ashamde of it, if Opus f Usus were not knocking at my doore twentie times a weeke when I am not within : the more is the pitie, that such a franke Gentleman as I, should want; but, since the dice doo runne so untowardly on my side, I am partly provided of a remedy. For wheras, those that stand most on their honour, have shut up their purses, & shift us off with court-hollie-bread: & on the other side, a number of hypocriticall hot-spurres, that have God alwayes in their mouthes, will give nothing for Gods sake: I have clapt up a handsome supplication to the Divell, and sent it by a good fellow, that I know will deliver it.
And because you may beleeve mee the better, I care not if I acquaint you with the circumstance.
I was informd of late daies, that a certaine blinde Retailer called the Divell, used to lend money upon pawnes or any thing, and would let one for a neede have a thousand poundes uppon a Statute Merchaunt of his soule: or if a man plide him throughly, would trust him uppon a Bill of his hand, without any more circumstaunce. Besides, he was noted for a privie Benefactor to Traytors and Parasites, and to advaunce fooles and asses farre sooner than any: to be a greedie pursuer of newes, and so famous a Politician in Purchasing, that Hel, which at the beginning was but an obscure Village, is now become a huge citie, wherunto all countryes are Tributary.
These manifest conjectures of Plentie, assembled in one common-place of ability, I determined to clawe Avarice by the elboe, til his full belly gave me a full hand, and let him blood with my pen (if it might be) in the veine of liberality : and so (in short time) was this Paper-monster, Pierce Penilesse, begotten.
To the high and mightie Prince of Darknesse,
quesse of Cocytus, and Lord
Most humbly sueth unto your sinfulnes, your single soald Orator, Pierce Penilesse : that whereas your impious excellence hath had the poore tennement of his purse any time this halfe yeer for your dauncing schoole, and he (notwithstanding) hath received no penny nor crosse for farme, according to the usuall manner, it may please your gracelesse Majestie to consider of him, and give order to your servant Avarice he may be dispatched : insomuch as no man heere in London can have a dauncing schoole without rent, and his wit and knavery cannot be maintained with nothing. Or, if this be not so plausible to your honourable infernalship, it might seeme good to your helhood to make extent upon the soules of a number of uncharitable Cormorants, who, having incurd the daunger of a Premunire with medling with matters that properly concerne your owne person, deserve no longer to live (as men) amongst men, but to bee incorporated in the society of divels. By which meanes the mightie controller of fortune and imperious subverter of desteny, delicious gold, the poore man's God, and Idoll of Princes (that lookes pale and wanne through long imprisonment) might at length be restored to his powrfull Monarchie, and eftsoon bee sette at liberty, to helpe his friends that have neede of him.
I knowe a great sort of good fellowes that would venture farre for his freedom, and a number of needy Lawyers (who now mourn in threedbare gownes for his thraldome) that would goe neere to poison his keepers with false Latine, if that might procure his enlargement : but inexorable yron detaines him in the dungeon of the night, so that (poore creature) hee can neither traffique with the Mercers and Tailers as he wont, nor dominere in Tavernes as he ought.