176:  The Attack on Snakes-Purr!

Head of Harry, a startled-looking black and white cat
Harry, our narrator.

I did not venture to Paws [St Paul’s] that night.

Onix told me that Picker and Stealer, the lean sisters I sought, would not be there.

That was because it was the Fasting Time [Lent], when they made progresses about the citie and beyond for the good of their souls.

And (sayt he) there’d been singing boys on the roof of Paws to greet the King.  Had those sisters wished to see the Procession, they’d have found a quieter place.

“When next comes a fat moon,” sayt Onix, “I’ll lead you to Picker and Stealer myself.  All cats – yes, and their kits too – that were friends to the noble Earl of Essex are welcome.”

Thus came I to Paws yard.  Many cats loitered there.  Some gave us sour looks or whispered as we passed, but none offered insults.

Onix. Was it Harry’s resemblance to him that caused whisperings?

Picker and Stealer were sat high on the steps.  After I’d made my obeisance, I begged them to tell me more of their assalt on Snakes-Purr.

“Nothing comes of nothing,” they sayt.  “What newes have you for us?”

I sayt, most courteous, “Could I know more of any matter in this citie than your ladyships do?”

“’Tis newes from Court we seek,” they sayt.  “Mark that well, or ’twill be the worse for you.”

Then they told of Snakes-Purr.  They spake in turns and had perforce to stop at times, so loud were the applauds of their minions.

Here is what they sayt, to the best of my remembrance.

“Before we set forth on our progress, there came to us Luvvie the player-cat.  He told us he believed Snakes-Purr was dwelling not far from here.

“Luvvie swore he’d heard the villain’s voice in Black-Fries, followed him to Cheap-Sight, and then run across the rooves to see which house he entered.

“We were curious.  We arrkst him to lead us thither.  He did, then fled away.  We stayed some days to make a survey of the house.

“We looked in all the windows we could.  Then we sought an entry.  Oft there came both menservants and maids to the door, and they left bearing baskets or boxes.

“We guessed it were a shop.  We knew we could slip in and find many places to hide.  Which we did, then crept upstairs to nose about while the household made ready for supper.

“Fish it were, most savoury.  It set our empty guts a-griping.

Cut salmon with a lemon
Fish it were, most savoury.

“There were women in that household, but we soon nosed a man’s chamber.  We concealed ourselves in the shadows on the landing, and awaited his coming.

“First came the maidservant, who oped the door and set little breads and a covered dish of fish upon the table.  Then Fortune favoured us.  The maid was called from below, and ran to the stairs to call back.

“We were in and under the bed before she closed the door.  That sound caused a different griping in our guts.  We were confined!

“Soon the man came in.  He did not nose us.  We crouched beneath the bed, each in her own corner, while he settled to his supper.  Then my sister shat.  Choice!

“He nosed my offering soon enough and ran to fling the window wide, as we’d hoped.  Then he looked under the bed and saw me.  He seized his sword and made to thrust me out.  My sister had at him.

“Yes.  That were my kew, as players say.  I sank my teeth into his paw.  He dropped his sword and together we enacted a fine scene, I hanging by my teeth upon one hand while he tried to strangle me with the other.

“Then I came forth to seize my cut of fish.  And exit through the window.

“I gave that strangling hand a mighty clawing.  He sought to beat my brains out by dashing me against the wall.  I untoothed him, fell upon the table, took my fish and so away.”

“We ate well that night.  Enough to keep our bodies and souls together for another year!”

Silver Street, where Picker and Stealer attacked Shakespeare in March 1604.
– Illustration derived from one in “Old and New London” of the precinct of Cripplegate, based on an early print of the Aggas [sic] Map.
I waited for their minions to stop screeching.  Then I arrkst, “How know your ladyships this man was Snakes-Purr?  He may have been the ’prentice.  Were there quills and rough papers in his chamber?”

“The ’prentice?  With a sword?  Taking his supper private?  This were the thieving clown that thinks hisself a gentleman.”

“Do not question us, you know-nowt.  Pray that the villain’s wounds poyson him.”

“And remember, when next we call at your house in the fields, we desire meats from your lord’s table or safe passage to your pantry where we may serve ourselves.”

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorWell, we know Shakespeare didn’t die of blood-poisoning in 1604.  However, his bitten hand might have been permanently damaged.  This could explain why his signatures (on the right) look so messy alongside those of his literate contemporaries.
Shakespeare’s earliest surviving signature dates from 1612 when he was 48, so other explanations might also be health-related (he died four years later), but damage-by-cat is worth serious consideration.

The 1612 signature is on Shakespeare’s deposition in a court case over Christopher Mountjoy’s failure to pay his daughter’s marriage portion.  In 1604 Shakespeare, who was lodging in Silver Street with the Mountjoys, had a part in arranging the marriage.  (The Mountjoys were French Protestant refugees, and no relation to Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy.)

Eight years later when the matter came to court, Shakespeare couldn’t (or wouldn’t) remember the amount of money promised.  There are facsimiles of some of the documents and background to the court case here, though I don’t agree that Shakespeare’s involvement was “minor”.  In 1604 he must have known what the promised sum was, even if his memory failed him in 1612.

Can stress-by-cats cause memory loss?  They hadn’t finished with him.  Harry’s remaining papers tell of the last, extraordinary, strike against him.  I’m still transcribing those papers, so will not be posting again until July, but I’ll keep up (and catch up) with my blog-reading.


19 thoughts on “176:  The Attack on Snakes-Purr!

  1. JOY journal May 17, 2019 / 1:09 am

    “…our empty guts a-griping!” I think I’m going to use that line at home, when people are milling about the kitchen before dinner. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi May 17, 2019 / 11:14 am

      I think we’re all familiar with that griping – from one side of the cooktop or the other.


  2. April Munday May 17, 2019 / 1:40 am

    A cliff-hanger! I’m looking forward to Harry’s own encounter with the bounder.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Rachel McAlpine May 17, 2019 / 6:52 am

    This account is a significant contribution to the field of literary forensics. I hope you will publish your findings in a scholarly journal to reach an even more distinguished audience.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi May 17, 2019 / 11:38 am

      I will. Some people have been so unkind as to suggest that Shakespeare’s surviving signatures look like they were written by someone unused to wielding a quill. Cat attack is a far more respectful explanation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi May 17, 2019 / 11:55 am

      Very sore paws, I’d say.


  4. Dave Ply May 17, 2019 / 10:45 am

    Ooh! Cat bite – not fun. I’ve been nailed a couple times at the shelter over the years and antibiotics are an automatic treatment. I doubt Shakespeare had that option – probably to Gibb’s ghostly delight.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi May 17, 2019 / 12:15 pm

      It’s easy to forget what a risk any sort of injury could present in pre-antibiotic times. Sometimes it amazes me that anyone managed to survive at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. kidsofthe50sand60s May 19, 2019 / 7:12 am

    I love your damage-by-cat theory. Backed up by scruffy signature evidence! I agree with what you say about pre-antibiotic times. Antibiotics weren’t available to the public here in the UK until 1946 – just five years before I was born – so my parents and grandparents, and every generation before them, went through wars, childbirth, injuries, operations and things like bronchitis and sinusitis without them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi May 19, 2019 / 10:11 am

      When I was a youngster in the 1960s I got pneumonia (must have been the microbial variety) and the GP said happily, “We can treat this with penicillin now.” He went on to say that he’d had pneumonia as a youngster and the only treatment was to go to bed and stay there – in his case for about 3 months.

      It amazes me that anyone managed to survive back in the days before inoculations, medications capable of attacking really nasty infections, and physicians and surgeons not even knowing to wash their hands and instruments between patients.

      Liked by 1 person

    • kidsofthe50sand60s May 19, 2019 / 5:27 pm

      Hand washing! Cross infection must have been rife! I went to a little museum in London recently which told the history of ice cream in Britain. The very first ice creams were sold on the street in little glass jars which people licked clean and handed back. They were used again and again without being washed. The authorities realised that ice cream was making a lot of people very ill and shut the street sellers down. The connection with shared dishes and infection was eventually made and ice cream could be sold again.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi May 19, 2019 / 11:15 pm

      That’s really interesting. At the time when lickable glass jars were used I suppose TB was still rife!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. chattykerry June 28, 2019 / 1:09 am

    I feel for Snakes-Purr, I got septicemia from a kitten’s bite in Egypt. Nearly took me to the other side…😺

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi June 30, 2019 / 6:40 am

      Snakes-Purr had it coming – that should teach him to plagiarise Gib’s work. You, however, have my sympathy!

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.