The Scenery of LondonMitton, G. E.
The gap between the times of and is enormous, not so much if measured in years, though one hundred and fifty years elapsed between the death of one and the birth of the other, but because the discovery and rapid growth of printing in the interval had transformed England. Where 's works were slowly and laboriously copied out by hand on vellum, 's were sent to the printer to be struck off in any number of copies. had access to books, which were but as names or unknown to ; to him lay open the whole field of literature. The output of the printing presses in 's time was immense, and all the books were new; there were no reprints, but everything was fresh; the whole field of literature was accessible. We see the result of this in the brilliant outburst of literary, and especially of poetic, talent: , Jonson, Marlowe, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher, Ralegh, and many another poet. Sir Thomas Browne, Francis Bacon, Stow, and Grafton among the prose writers belong to this age, and all these names are household words yet. In this wonderful world, this world of learning and chivalry, this world of culture and romance, took his place.
He was the son of a clothmaker who lived in East Smithfield, on the east of the Tower, not to be confounded with the much better known West Smithfield. His father was then working in the service of Nicholas
|Peele of Bow Lane. The date was somewhere near .|
On one side lay the moat of the Tower and the strong walls of the citadel, and here, ere the boy could speak plainly, Lady Jane Grey was beheaded and Princess imprisoned. From his earliest years the going to and fro and the beheadings of the State prisoners must have formed the theme of the conversation around him, and the vast crowds gathered on the green slopes of Tower Hill to witness executions must have been a familiar sight. Northward from the Tower ran the Town Ditch, that Town Ditch into which the citizens emptied all their refuse, and which constantly needed cleaning. At Smithfield itself there was an open space where on Aggas's Map a woman is represented drying clothes, and to the north and to the south were the dismantled religious houses, St. Katherine's by the Tower, Eastminster, Holy Trinity Priory, and others. Some of the churches still stood. Here was a bit of cloister, there an enclosing wall, but all the houses were now turned from their uses and stood forlorn. This revolution of things that had seemed as firm as the mountains was still fresh in the minds of men. Beyond Smithfield were open fields all the way as far as eye could see to where the little church of Stepney stood on the horizon.
On his way to the newly founded Merchant Taylors' School in Suffolk Lane, Dowgate, the boy would pass over the Ditch, threading his way through the streets with their wooden houses and by many a spired church.
|The school was not far from , and after school hours, no doubt, he, among others, would hurry down to the old bridge with its narrow deep arches and wonderful houses; he would envy those who lived above the rushing flood, and long to live there too.|
|His school was part of the fine old mansion of The Rose, which had been held by the Earl of Hereford, the Dukes of Exeter and of Buckingham, and many another noble, and at intervals by the Crown. Even as a schoolboy the lad wrote verses, and very shortly after he left, a collection of poems, now generally considered to have been from his pen, though issued under a false name, appeared in print. He went from school to Cambridge University, and afterwards stayed in the country with relatives, until in he became a member of the household of the Queen's favourite, the Earl of Leicester. The Earl then occupied the house adjoining the Temple, later known as Essex House, and partly on the site now covered by Essex Street. The Strand was then in the fulness of its glory, and had replaced Thames Street as the fashionable quarter, for in London fashion ever shows a tendency to move westward. Here were the splendid palaces of the nobles we have already noticed, Arundel and Somerset Houses, Durham and Worcester Houses, and others. In his daily life was brought into friendly relations with many a brilliant courtier, many a cultured gentleman, and formed friendships with Sidney and Ralegh that were only ended by death. Sidney was nephew to the Earl of Leicester, and no doubt a|
|frequent guest at his house. Ralegh was at that time probably occupying Durham House, which had been granted to him by the Queen, and was within a short walk of his friend; and but a little farther westward was York House, where, some twenty years before, a man, who was to earn a greater name than he, Francis Bacon, had been born.|
The Shepheard's Calendar was written and published and the Faerie Queen begun while the poet was at Leicester House. In was appointed secretary to Lord Grey de Wilton, who was going as deputy to Ireland, and though he revisited England later, from this time Ireland remained his residence until shortly before his death. He came back after the rebellion of a broken and ruined man; his house had been burnt and his possessions destroyed by the rebels. He took lodgings in (p. 91) in , and died there. Ben Jonson, his famous contemporary, and a Londoner too, having been born in , declared that he perished for lack of bread, which must have been an exaggeration. In any case it is certain that his last days were embittered by want. Yet that the nation was not unmindful of his genius is shown by the fact that he was buried in , only a short way from the last resting-place of , his splendid predecessor.
- This object is in collection:
- Edwin C. Bolles papers
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