Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
By Stephen Gosson (15541624)
From The School of Abuse
CONSIDER with thy self (gentle reader) the old discipline of England, mark what we were before, and what we are now. Leave Rome a while, and cast thine eye back to thy predecessors, and tell me how wonderfully we have been changed, since we were schooled with these abuses. Dion saith that English men could suffer watching and labour, hunger and thirst, and bear of all storms with head and shoulders: they used slender weapons, went naked, and were good soldiers, they fed upon roots and barks of trees, they would stand up to the chin many days in marshes without victuals; and they had a kind of sustenance in time of need, of which if they had taken but the quantity of a bean, or the weight of a pea, they did neither gape after meat, nor long for the cup a great while after. The men in valour not yielding to Scythia, the women in courage passing the Amazons. The exercise of both was shooting and darting, running and wrestling, and trying such maisteries1 as either consisted in swiftness of feet, agility of body, strength of arms, or martial discipline. But the exercise that is now among us, is banqueting, playing, piping, and dancing, and all such delights as may win us to pleasure, or rock us on sleep.
Oh what a wonderful change is this! Our wrestling at arms is turned to wallowing in ladies laps; our courage to cowardice; our running to riot, our bows into bolles,2 and our darts to dishes. We have robbed Greece of gluttony, Italy of wantonness, Spain of pride, France of deceit, and Dutchland of quaffing. Compare London to Rome, and England to Italy, you shall find the theatres of the one, the abuses of the other, to be rife among us. Experto crede, I have seen somewhat, and therefore I think I may say the more. In Rome when plays or pageants are shown, Ovid chargeth his pilgrims to creep close to the saints, whom they serve, and shew their double diligence to lift the gentlewomens robes from the ground, for soiling in the dust, to sweep motes from their kirtles, to keep their fingers in use, to lay their hands at their backs for an easy stay; to look upon those whom they behold, to praise that which they commend, to like everything that pleaseth them, to present them pomegranates to pick as they sit; and when all is done, to wait on them mannerly to their houses. In our assemblies at plays in London, you shall see such heaving and shoving, such itching and shouldering, to sit by women; such care for their garments, that they be not trod on; such eyes to their laps, that no chips light in them; such pillows to their backs, that they take no hurt; such masking in their ears, I know not what: such giving them pippins to pass the time; such playing at foote saunt3 without cards; such ticking, such toying, such smiling, such winking, and such manning them home when the sports are ended, that it is a right comedy to mark their behaviour, to watch their conceits, as the cat for the mouse, and as good as a course at the game itself, to dog them a little, or follow aloof by the print of their feet, and so discover by slot where the deer taketh soil.
If this were as well noted as ill seen, or as openly punished as secretly practised, I have no doubt but the cause would be seared to dry up the effect, and these pretty rabbits very cunningly ferreted from their burrows. For they that lack customers all the week, either because their haunt is unknown, or the constables and officers of their parish watch them so narrowly, that they dare not queatche,4 to celebrate the Sabbath, flock to theatres, and there keep a general market of vice.