200:  I Go to the Print-Shop

After Picker and Stealer had run off with the page I’d writ, I could do no more. 

I’d offered to help them carry the Snakes-Purr papers from Paws [St Paul’s] to the print shop, but they told me, “No.  You’re too fat and slow.  And too easy seen, even at twilight.”

They sayt ’twould be swift work for them.  At Christmas-tide doors are oft open to admit friends.  Folks are too full-fed and lickerish [liquorish] to heed cats creeping by.

But I was worried by troubling thoughts, and could scarce lie quiet in my bed.

Picker and Stealer were old.  What if they met with some mischance?

The papers were soiled and ill-writ.  What if the printer could not read them?

A black and white cat looking out from under an embroidered and padded coverlet.
Harry, prone to troubling thoughts. He seems to have inherited his Uncle Gib’s melancholy, but not his talent.

Spring came, then summer.  What if my lord removed to the countrie and took me with him?  I had no newes for my mother. 

What if my lord did not take me, and my mother left this world never knowing what I (and her friends) had done?

I could wait no longer.  I set forth for the citie.

As I made my way through the fields another sorry thought came to me.

I had forgot to make a dedication.

Sure, a proper book should have one.

I’ve seen many books with dedications to my lord.  My mother told me never to heed such trifles.  They’re writ by starveling poets and moldy skollers who want money.

We cats care nowt for coin, but I thought our book should be dedicate to my late uncle.  He first made the verses Snakes-Purr stole, even though the villain had changed their words to make them seem his own.

I found Kettie the Turkey Cat sat on the roof of his own print-shop.

I arrkst, “How goes it with our book?”

“Well,” sayt he. “The papers are at the print-shop.  The cat that keeps it told me we lack for nowt.”

“We lack a dedication,” sayt I.

“Dedications cause trouble,” sayt Kettie.  “I’ll have none of it.  Was not a fellow that writ a book dedicate to the most noble and heroick Earl of Essex cast into the Tower?”

“That were the old Queen’s doing,” sayt I.  “King James is not so squeemish. He writes books hisself.”

“Unkingly work,” sayt Kettie.

I let that pass.

Instead, I begged that he might lead me to the print-shop where our book was.  I sayt I wished to thank the cat there for his help.

As we made our way across the rooves I sayt to Kettie, “ I hear tell that the Turks have an empire to rival that of Spain.”

“We do,” sayt Kettie.

“And that Turks are the bravest soldiers in all the world.”

“That’s true,” sayt Kettie.

“’Tis well I have a friend in you, then,” sayt I.

The print-shop cat was sitting by his window.

The print-shop cat.

“What do you here?” he arrkst, unfriendly.

I did not waste words.  I told him our book rekwired a dedication.

“You have it writ?” arrkst he.

“No,” sayt I.  “I have it in my head.”

“Too late,” sayt he.  “I seen them picking at the types already.”

Of a sudden, the door to the print-shop opened.  A boy came out with a box, and stood against the door to keep it open for another who called from within.

“Follow me!” cried Kettie.

And before I knew it he and I were in and under the counter.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe publication of the sonnets known as Shakespeare’s is, like so much else in his life, mysterious. 

According to Harry, the sonnets were taken from the Globe playhouse in early 1608 and hidden in St Paul’s until Christmas.  Then they were smuggled into a print-shop (known to be George Eld’s at the sign of the White Horse in Fleet Lane).  I don’t know whether there were such things as office parties back then, but the work atmosphere was probably relaxed enough to accept a manuscript no-one remembered receiving. 

The publisher Thomas Thorpe, whose initials Harry had written on his draft title page, must have been contacted, as the cats had hoped.  In May 1609 “a booke called Shakespeares sonnettes” was entered in the Stationers’ Register.

And where was Shakespeare in all this?  Nobody knows.  He may not even have been in London.  What we do know is that his mother, Mary (Arden) Shakespeare was buried in Stratford on 9 September 1608, and from August 1608 until June 1609 he was engaged in lengthy legal action in Stratford against a John Addenbrooke who’d defaulted on a loan of £6.[1]

The title page for ‘our book’, as envisaged by Harry.  But was it what he got?

[1] S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, Revised edition (OUP 1987) pp240-241