198:  Stay-Shunners

Harry in Southampton House.

There was no more I could do until I heard word from Kettie.

Instead there came word of great sickness in the citie.  Again.

Another stay on my hopes.

I remained at home, and prayed my friends kept safe.  And that the Snakes-Purr papers were safe too.

The Queen Cat of Heaven protected us.  After leaf fall I found Onix waiting faithful in the garden by the river wall.

He sayt Kettie had newes for me.  We hasted to his shop.  

As we passed the playhouse Luvvie joined us.  Picker and Stealer were sat on Kettie’s roof already.

Kettie told me they had hatcht a cunning plat.

Item:  He knew a print shop we could use.  Not many ways off.  We would know this shop by its picture of a white horse.  Picker and Stealer would carry the papers there, and entrust them to the cat that kept it.

“What if he will not help us?” I arrkst.

“He will,” sayt Picker.

Item: We must also have a page with Snakes-Purr’s name on it.  Then all could know him for a thief.

“I’ll write that,” sayt I.

Kettie sayt, “You must write who will sell the book, too.”

“Why?” I arrkst.

“Because,” sayt Kettie, “a book to be printed must be put in our register.  It’s a rule of our honorable companie.  By which I mean the stay-shunners [stationers].”

“We did not think you meant us,” sayt Picker, very merrie.

“What name must I write?”

“Tom Torp,” sayt Luvvie.  “My friend Pen [Ben Jonson] and other play-makers offer their work to him.”

“Then why don’t we leave the papers at his shop?” I arrkst.

“He don’t have a shop,” sayt Luvvie.  “That’s the bewtie of it.”   

Luvvie never made no sense to me.

I arrkst, “How can he sell books if he has no shop?”

“Arks no questions, you’ll hear no lies,” sang Stealer.

Onix sayt, “Hear Kettie.  He knows his trade.”

Kettie sayt, “When the printer finds the papers in his shop, he’ll seek out Tom Torp.  And Tom Torp will do all that’s needful for register.”

I never could stay my tongue when there was a question on it.  “What if this Tom Torp says: I know nowt of these papers?  What if he runs to Snakes-Purr?”

“What if, what if,” sang Picker.

Stealer sayt to me, “What if these papers you call verses are nowt but bills from Snakes-Purr’s laundry?”   

“I know verses when I see them,” sayt I.

“Then tell us what’s writ here,” sayt Picker.

Picker, sitting. On what?

She stood, and I saw that she’d been sat on a little book.

Stealer sayt, “We passed by a bookseller and I chanced to knock this off his table.”

They was putting me to the test! 

“With pleasure,” sayt I.  “It’s imprinted fair.  Here’s a big mark to signify Master.  Then comes the name we love so well.  William Shak-Spear.  The knave who thinks hisself a gentleman.”

“We heard that name in the shop,” sayt Stealer. “Tell us more.”

 I sayt, “See HIS, set large to make all believe this work is his alone?”

The title page of King Lear, 1608.

I told them it was a True Chronicle Historie of a King and his daughters.  Then I sayt, “There’s more here that’s writ small to signify that it’s not true.  ‘Tis a play.”

I paused so they could think on that.

Onix, a pied cat.

Then I sayt, “Lest you think that what I’ve read be of mine own invention, I can read where you found this book.  At the shop with the picture of a bull that’s pied like Onix.  It’s in Paws’ yard near Austin’s gate.”

“Magick!” cried Onix.  

Picker swept the book aside, and sayt to me, “We’ll come by your house to collect the page you’ll write.  Else we may die afore you come this way again.”

“Sure,” sayt I, most amiable.  “Let us shun all further stays.”

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTom Torp” (Thomas Thorpe c.1569 –1625) the stationer with neither a printing press nor a bookstall, does sound like a dodgy character.  Picker and Stealer think he is.

Many Shakespearean scholars have dismissed him as an unprincipled literary pirate; others defend him.  That comes down to whether or not they think Shakespeare sold his sonnets to Thorpe for publication.  Or did Thorpe acquire a manuscript copy by other means?  We’ll learn the truth.

Incidentally, the website of today’s Stationers’ Company has an interesting little history of its long association with St Paul’s churchyard and an explanation of how stationers got their name. 


6 thoughts on “198:  Stay-Shunners

  1. April Munday December 12, 2019 / 10:45 pm

    Tom Thorpe is new to me, so I’m eager to learn more.

    I don’t know whether Picker and Stealer should be more or less suspicious of Harry now that he’s proved that he can read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 13, 2019 / 12:18 am

      And Harry has an eye for the small print as well! Definitely a cat ahead of his time.
      I can’t figure out how Thomas Thorpe managed, financially. He seems to have been operating more like a modern publisher in that he bought works, maybe edited them, but paid others to print them. The booksellers he supplied would have taken their cut, so unless Thorpe lighted upon a bestseller he can’t have got much in the way of profits. Publishers in NZ rarely survive, even though the literate percentage of the population is much larger.

      Liked by 1 person

    • April Munday December 13, 2019 / 8:47 am

      Perhaps he had a private fortune and used it to promote writers he liked.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 13, 2019 / 12:30 pm

      I haven’t looked him up in the DNB, but from bits and pieces I’ve read about him he was an innkeeper’s son, did an apprenticeship, was admitted a freeman of the Stationers Company in 1594, disappeared from the records until 1600, and then embarked on his publishing career. He could have had an additional income stream – through his wife, perhaps, or a small inheritance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kidsofthe50sand60s December 25, 2019 / 12:33 am

    Absolutely fascinating! I’ve often wondered how the word stationery came about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi December 27, 2019 / 8:12 am

      That was new to me, too.


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