72:  A Young Skoller

Small close-up of Gib's face.I had told my niece that I would fetch her when I found pens, ink, and paper left readie.  I was not wholly truthful.

First, I writ a page or two of my diurnal [journal].

Then, having nowt else to write of, I went to the kitchen for refreshments.

There I saw my niece, sat bold-arst by the kitchen door.

“What do you here?” I arrkst.

“I have employment in the wash-house [laundry].  You told me to creep in by degrees, and so I shall.” 

A quill being trimmed with a small knife.
Cutting a quill – not a task for a cat. From Jan van Bijlert (c1597-1671) – St Luke the Evangelist.

I led her to the book room where she arrkst more fool questions, too tedious to set down here.  She sayt the pen was nowt but a feather, and feared the ink was poyson.  I bore this with patience.

Then I gave her a tap on the head, as my mother did when she wished me to take heed.

I took the pen in my mouth, thrust it in the ink, seated myself as I would to cleanse my belly, and put the pen between my toes.

“Many in this household speak of me as the young Earl’s Gib,” I sayt. “My lord calls me Bevis.  I will show you how I write the sounds for Gib and Bevis.”

I made the marks for Gib.  Slow.

She watched me at my work. “I see the worms come forth.”

Then she grew fearful, and arrkst, “Will they creep into my head?  And there grow wings, as you sayt when you showed me the book?”

I’m sorry I told her that, for she cannot conceive it.

How else could I explain the sounds turned into marks that change to images in our mind’s eye?

Title page of Arthur Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, published 1567.
Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis – one of Gib’s sources for his tales.

Metaphor, metamor, metamorphosis: one thing becomes another.  Fit matter for a sonnet.

But I fear I might confound myself.

So I sayt to her, “They worms will not enter your head unless you invite them.”

That cheered her, so I writ the marks for Bevis.

“Now,” sayt I, “Do you have a name?  Has any called you by one?”

“A wash-wench calls me Puss,” sayt she. “Though I may choose a better.”

A better name than Puss.  Did you ever hear the like?

“Puss,” sayt I, “will do very well.  It is one of the names of the Queen Cat of Heaven, and all cats may use it in her honour.  Now I will show you the marks for it.”

I writ it fair.  And then I told her to sit so I could put the pen between her toes.

“Now,” sayt I, “Make a mark with it.  Any will do.”

My little skoller [scholar] scratched a few.  But she became so eager of writing Puss that she had not the patience to wait for me to dip the pen for her.  She must attempt it herself, and splattered the ink.

When I reproved her she struck the ink-holder a blow that knocked it from the table.

I sayt, as I seized our paper and prepared to flee, “I’ll be blamed for that.”

“No,” sayt she. “I’ll make haste to catch a mouse or rat, and leave its corpse there.  All will think you knocked the ink while in hot pursuit.”

Oh, she is suttle.  I too am suttle, as was my lord when we were kits together.  A quality most needful in young skollers.

A drawing from 16th century France, by an anonymous artist. Held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A drawing from 16th century France by an anonymous artist. Held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The man at the table has a number of the necessities for writing: a knife for trimming pens, what looks like a spare pen in the ink jar, and a sand-caster for sprinkling sand over recent writing to dry the ink. (Not something Gib bothered with.)

Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.I’ve often wondered why Gib had such easy access to the library, books being the expensive items they were.  He wrote of causing a certain amount of what we would call damage when he was living in a different household.  (Cowdray House, belonging to the young Earl of Southampton’s grandfather, Viscount Montague.)

The answer is rats and mice who might have chewed the books.  This would have been an even more expensive problem in the days before books were printed.  Check out this delightful post on medieval cats with literary aspirations and notions of ownership.


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 him.  And 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

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

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.