51: An Upcreeping Ear-licker

Gib, looking large-eyed and self important.Yes.  An upstart that thinks hisself a poet has been so bold as to come creeping after my lord.

I have his book before me.  “Right Honourable,” (writes he to my lord) “I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship.”

Thus he crawls, tail a-wag and belly to the ground, as such curs do.

“Only, if your honour seem but pleased,” (which is to say: reward me well) “I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours” (as I now take advantage of you) “till I have honoured you with some graver labour.”

Well, I hope that labour may be a grave one indeed.  Whose grave, you may guess.

The cover of the first edition of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, 1593.His poem was of Venus and Adonis.  The knave took it from the Book of Changes [Ovid’s Metamorphoses] wherein I have found some tales.

He changed the Adonis tale to suit hisself (as a poet should) but his embellishments are most lascivious. 

Adonis, a silly boy, goes hunting.  Venus, Queen of Love, calls to him, pulls him from his horse, drags him away, and flings him to the ground.

He hates her as I hate my empty bowl.  And he’s not willing to scruff her.  So she says he’s in love with himself like Narcissus. (Yes, he again.  Can these fools write of none other?)

A bed of wild violets.
“Be bold to play, our sport is not in sight:
These blue-vein’d violets whereon we lean
never can blab, nor know not what we mean.”

Adonis tries to flee, but his horse has run off after a hot mare.  Venus praises his horse most high.  All Adonis wants is to catch his horse.  As he hopes to run away from Venus.  He’s too young to do what she wills.  His day is spoiled.

In truth, I found this tale so tedious I did but skim the rest.  There was a hare that was of interest to me, and later some sorry dogs.  Nowt else.

At last Adonis did go to kill a boar, but the boar killed him.  All know that, because the ends of these old tales may never be changed.  Up came a flower from his blood, which Venus picked.  Then she flew away with two doves.

Word of doves inflamed my appetite, I do confess.  By good fortune, there was baked pigeon for my supper.  With gravy.

When I told of this nonsense at the Cats’ Field, the queen cats could not believe it.  My sister marvelled that any hot queen would molest an innocent kitling.

Some were offended.  One arrkst why Adonis had not called to his mother.  She would have chased that nastie goddess off.

The Mad Cat lost no time in saying that my newes proved the wickedness of poesie. “A poet, a liar, a lecher.  Who can tell one from another?” arrkst he.

A black cat looking excited
Nero

That made us merry.  Nero leapt up and sayt, “Friend, I fear you may be right.”

I sayt, “I fear there may be more such fooleries to come.”

“There will,” sayt Linkin the Law Cat.  “Two winters more, and our young Earl will be of full age and get his claws on all his money.  The starveling poets know it.”

“They’ll swoop like glutton gulls,” sayt Nero.

“And who is this upcreeping ear-licker that writ so foul?” my sister arrkst.

A scarlet macaw, from an eighteenth century painting.“Certes, no cat,” sayt Nero.  “Nor no gentleman neither.”

“I hear tell he’s a mere player,” sayt I.  “One that never utters a line of his own invention, but spews forth those of others.”

“Like to the parrot my master keeps, and fowl it be,” sayt Nero.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorWilliam Shakespeare’s narrative poem Venus and Adonis was published some time after 18 April 1593 when it was entered in the Register at Stationer’s Hall – his first appearance in print.  His name is not on the cover, but beneath the dedication.

It was a bestseller, and said to be very popular with the younger sort.  As Shakespeare’s Adonis sounds so young (a major change from Ovid’s version where Venus and Adonis are, briefly, a couple), modern readers are more likely to share the queen cats’ opinion.  But that wouldn’t have been how a lot of Elizabethans read it. 

The plague continued in London throughout 1593, and the theatres and other areas for public entertainment (such as bowling, and bear or bull baiting) were closed.  So what was Shakespeare doing that year?  Some have speculated that he may have entered the Earl’s service, and spent some time at Place House.  If so, Gib hasn’t confirmed his presence there.

50:  My Observations

I will be plain.  I am not accustomed to dwelling in a house so pestered with strange folks.  And dogs.  I creep about most careful of my safety, but I see and hear much, you may believe me.

We have not had merriment of late.  All must wear a mask of sorrow, whether they be sad or no, because the old Catlick lord [the Earl’s grandfather] has died.  I hear tell he will have a fine house to lodge in, same as was built for my lord’s maggot-brained father.

The kneeling figure of the Viscount. The bearded figure wears a ruff and the mantle and collar of the Order of the Garter over armour.
The tomb effigy of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague – the Earl’s grandfather, who died in October 1592.  From a photo by Anthony McIntosh.

When I gave newes of this at the Cats’ Field, I arrkst, “Why cannot rich folks have a hole in the ground?”

The Mad Cat sayt, “We come up like flowers and are cut down, and vanish like shadows, and never continue in one state.”

(Fine words.  I may steal them, as he’s been known to steal mine.)

“Rich folks are like robbers,” he went on.  “They cannot bide quiet in a hole; they must have the finest houses, even when they’re dead.”

“To the great annoyance of their heirs,” called Linkin. “Who hoped to get their paws on more money than they do.”

What things they two learn from their mad mistress and her lawyer son.

I entertain myself by watching my lord and his friends play at killing each other.  They stamp up and down the gallery most murderous.  Their claws are not fit for fighting, so they hold a dagger in one hand and a sword in the other.  I count this a comedy, but they take great pride in theirselves.

And I attend upon my lord.  I’m not so familiar with him as I was when we were kits together and he first guided my untutored pen.  But I believe we’re very like.

We was both took from our mothers too soon.  And he makes a great show of hisself (as some say I do). 

He loves his mirror, though not as Narcissus loved his pool of water.  When my lord is content with what his servants have made of him, he comes away from his reflection most cheerful.

But I do not believe he takes that image for his true self.  Or loves what he thinks his true self to be.  Perchance his self is at odds with his soul?  I must think more on it.

My education continues apace.  I’m learning Italian, as the nobilitie do.

And I know of Pie-Takers.  When first I heared that name, I thought they was a pair of thieving dogs or foxes. But no.

Two young foxes - one is snoozing, the other is preparing to nip its ear.This Pie-Takers [Pythagoras] was a flosser [philosopher] in the old time.  He sayt that when you die your soul goes into a new body.

That is called: met in sycosis [metempsychosis].

Today Nero came up in the garden like a black flower (if there can be such a thing) in hopes of a glimpse of our Earl.

When Nero makes haste, he has a strange hopping gait.

A black Manx cat
The Sea Cat Nero

He says this comes from being so long at sea, where he trod the decks in wild weathers.

I believe it is because he has no tail to weight his backside.

“Well met in sycosis, friend,” sayt I, most wittie.

“What flea has bit you now?” arrkst Nero.

We sat a while.  I told him what I’d learnt of the transmigration of souls.

I sayt that when he was last in this world, he was a rabbit.  As his gait proves.  And my lord might have him cooked and tasted, so all might judge how much of a rabbit he is.

Nero vanished like a shadow then.

A detail from Viscount Montague’s tomb – a bull calf (?) at the feet of his wife. (Photo by Simon Burchell CC SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons).  If Gib had seen the calf, he may have decided that it represented her next incarnation. There’s a handsome photo of the whole structure by Chris Partridge here.  The tomb was damaged and rebuilt when it was moved in 1851 from the Montague Chapel in the Parish Church at Midhurst to the Church of St Mary at Easebourne.