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 that told who writ the verses.  Then all could know Snakes-Purr 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.  The knave thinks hisself a gentleman.  Then comes the name we love well.  William Shak-Spear.  That’s what he calls hisself.”

“We heared 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 read out that 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 it’s no true story.  ‘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 tell where you found this book.  At the shop with the picture of a bull that’s pied like me and 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’re close to knowing 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.