16 AUGUST 1930, Page 22

Elizabethan Rogues

The Elizabethan Underworld : A Collection of Tudor and Early Stuart Tracts and Ballads. Edited by A. V. Judges. (Routledge. 25s.)

DIFFICCLT to please would the reader be who does not find something somewhere in this volume to tickle his palate or suit his taste. Are his leanings towards the study of philology or the use of words or slang ? Then he will learn here what was the original meaning of a court-card and of cupboard ; he will note that the early Stuarts were using the term, super- brains three hundred years before the Shavian superman came to he born ; and he may be interested to know that with the Elizabethan underworld the slang words " duds," "togs," " boosing" (though the Tudor toper spelt it "hous- ing"), " nab," " slops " and " cove " were as familiar and well-understood as they are to-day. The Borrovian will recollect Borrow's use of the word " harmanbeck." It was in vogue also as the flash-term for " constable " in 1566, and many a rascal, inhabitant of " Filching,ton, Foistham, Liftington or Swearinghampton," knew what it meant to come first before the Queer Collin (or Justice of the Peace), to be subsequently conducted by the harmanbeck to the harmans (or stocks), or walk at the tail of the whipping-cart, or, if there was room, to be locked up in the queer-ken. But that last did not happen very often, for Tudor justice in lieu of the prison much preferred to use the whip and the gallows. To that fate—climbing " three trees with a ladder " or " up to Heaven in a string "—the inveterate vagabond commonly came, unless he or she succumbed first to what, with a sturdy English contempt for all miserable and disease-stricken foreigners, was known as the " Neapolitan favour " or the

French marbles."

Considered merely as literature, too, these tracts are of infinite charm, so different from the Grub Street hackwork of crime in the eighteenth century. That was coarsely handled and for the most part dull. Nothing in it can match the pathetic tale, for instance, which Thomas Harman gives in his Caveat for Common Cursitors (1566), beginning " I chanced, not long since, familiarly to common with a doxy that came to my gate, and surely a pleasant harlot and not so pleasant as witty," one who had passed her time lewdly eighteen years in walking about." Asked how many male companions she had had during this time, " she paused awhile, and said, Why do you ask me or wherefore " For nothing else,' as I said, • but that I would know them when they came to my gate." Now, by my troth,' quoth she, ' then are ye never the near, for all mine acquaintance for the most part are dead." Dead,' quoth I, how died they ? For want to cherishing, or of painful diseases ? ' Then she sighed, and said, They were hanged.' " (How like all this is to Defoe, who must have modelled his Moll Flanders upon much that he found in these Elizabethans—perhaps on Greene's Fair Nan, a " traffic " and also a pickpocket, with her false bag under her smock.) Harman was a magistrate and, something of a sociologist, made it his business to collect and publish crimino- logical detail, hut, though an amateur in letters, he has a strong smack of the fine, grand manner of his time. Then there is Robert Greene, the dramatist, who is responsible for five pamphlets, and the golden sentences of Dekker, who plagiarized both from Harman and Greene. On .the Eliza- bethan, plagiarism sat lightly. S. R. (whom Mr. Judges identifies with Samuel Rid), for example. copies unscrupulously from Sir Thomas More's Life of Richard III a famous passage on the right of sanctuary at Westminster. In all of them both richness and felicity of phrase stand strongly out, like Fennor's " His nose was precious, richly rubefied " and " their finger dipped in the blood-bowl of cruelty " (of gaoleri).

But it is neither for the sake of wordlore nor of letters that Mr. Judges has collected and annotated these eighteen old ballads and tracts and has preluded them with an informed and informing introduction to serve as a backcloth to the scene. He sees in them a valuable sociological and economic quarry and sets them forth as such. Here are displayed in life and being Tudor rogues of either sex and every colour of disreputability—confidence men or conycatchers, black- mailers or crossbiters, highwaymen, strumpets and bawds ; with racy vigour and with the knowledge of contemporaneity are portrayed the street, the gaol, the ordinary, the gambling- house, the boosing-ken and the brothel. Dekker in Langhorne and Candlelight (1808) provides, says Mr. Judges, "the first discussion in English general literature of the habits of gypsy vagrants "—a statement which is rather at variance with another on p. xxv where Dr. Andrew Dade (1547) is described as the first man of letters to discuss gypsy manners. In Harman's Cursitors we can read the very names of some of the more prominent male members of the " rowsey, ragged, rabblement of rake hells,"'who plied their trade round London. Precise statistics of Tudor vagabonds unfortunately do not exist, but their numbers may be vaguely estimated by hearing that in the spring of 1506 the North Riding of Yorkshire rounded up and brought to trial a hundred and six vagrants, all of whom were condemned to death. Mendicancy and destitution were, as Mr. Judges says, problems of the first magnitude, and he notes the curiously significant fact that " it is precisely at the moment when Tudor efficiency and strong government com- menced to bestow their benefits on England that the figures of Autolycus and his disreputable associates are said to have begun to stalk the land." In the spacious days of great Elizabeth England was not quite as merrie " 'as tradition would have it, and Mr. Kennedy in his Parish Life under Elizabeth is quoted as remarking that the age is marked by " moral decay. Part of this decay was undoubtedly aggra- vated by the underworld of mendicancy and crime; dispersed all over England and not concentrated in London alone. Authority and savage punishment could neither suppress nor control it, and its sinister predominance is proved by the fact that a whole school of literature was founded to describe it. Mr. Judges has done a service both to history and letters by

reviving for us a part of that literature. M. J. C. M.