Guilpin's Skialetheia ('Shadow of Truth') is a collection of satires and epigrams registered in 1598, most of them apparently written in the previous eighteen months. In Skialetheia Guilpin makes satirical attacks, sometimes on types and sometimes on real contemporaries, but always disguising the victims under Latin names. A few of the attacks are on important public figures, such as the Earl of Essex, but as a literary man Guilpin was naturally drawn to comment on fellow writers. "His preoccupation with his craft and contemporary craftsmen renders Skialetheia a delightful, if frustrating on occasions, sourcebook for the literary scholar," notes D. Allen Carroll in the Introduction to the University of North Carolina Press's edition of the work. Carroll points out two particular examples: "Epigram 8, "To Deloney", and Epigram 24 "Of Fuscus," who" Carroll adds "is probably Nashe."
Epigram 24, 'Of Fuscus', runs as follows:
It's not hard to see why 'Fuscus' should be identified with Nashe. The epigram describes a writer whose talent is for satire - he has a scolding, 'rugged' Muse - and who likes to shout about his skills. I think it's safe to say nobody could accuse Nashe of lacking confidence in his literary gifts. But in his overconfidence 'Fuscus' has made the mistake of letting his satires become a little too public. He has allowed actors and 'artificers' - workmen - to meddle with them. The result of such foolish indiscretion is an embarrassing loss of reputation.
The word 'artificers' I think must clinch Nashe as the subject of this epigram. The previous year, 1597, had seen the short run of his play The Isle of Dogs, a satire suppressed so effectively nothing but the title survives. The Privy Council itself intervened to close not only the theatre where it was played, but, as a mark of its extreme displeasure, all public theatres. Nashe seems to have made himself scarce in consequence, abruptly leaving London for safer ground. Among those who did not escape arrest however were the actors involved, whom Nashe later blamed for expanding his original idea. They included a certain Ben Jonson and Jonson, of course, was not only an actor and a writer, but a bricklayer. An artificer.
Moreover perhaps the last two lines, with their uneasy hint of a reputation sexually tainted, would also fit Nashe. The circulation of his erotic poem The Choise of valentines had evidently reached Cambridge by 1597 as an allusion in Virgidemiarum makes it plain Joseph Hall knew of it; and if he did, it seems highly likely that Guilpin would have done so too. As a friend of Donne and a member of the Inns of Court Guilpin was better placed than a fellow of Emmanuel to know the inner secrets of the London literary scene.
There are two other mentions of 'Fuscus' in Skialetheia. In Epigram 8 'To Deloney', Guilpin marvels that the work of the balladeer Thomas Deloney should have been suppressed when the (presumably worse) verses of 'Fuscus' are common currency:
Deloney's 'hempen tragedie' was a consequence of a ballad he had written about the general hard times. It had angered the authorities because it 'brought in the Queen speaking to her people Dialoguewise, in very fond and undecent sort', and so had been condemned to be burnt by the public hangman. Presumably this punishment was publicised in St Paul's Churchyard, centre of the publishing trade. And yet, Guilpin suggests, somebody else guilty perhaps of greater lese-majeste continues to have his work circulating even more widely. Again, I think the provocative rhymer 'Fuscus' is Nashe.
The last mention of 'Fuscus' is in Epigram 19, 'Of Faustus':-
To me this links up with lines 85-86 in Satyre Preludium:
At this point Guilpin is comparing the satirical force of the epigram and the satire. An epigram he says is a mere fleabite alongside a satire, which in the second line he compares to the vicious jests Charles Chester would make about a woman with a painted face. An epigram, in contrast, would merely be like 'dwarf Kings scurrill grace'. Well if Fuscus is Nashe, and someone referred to as 'Faustus' quoted his salacious poetry as a grace before meals: and if someone referred to as 'dwarf King' also quotes a scurrilous grace - then I suggest putting the two together. Someone who was an admirer of Nashe was in the habit of quoting his poetry instead of saying grace; he was a dwarf, or a very small man; and his name was King. I think it's Humphrey King, Nashe's 'little Numps', to whom he dedicated 'Nashes Lenten stuffe' (click here for the dedication.)
FUSCUS RIDES AGAIN
There is yet another mention of 'Fuscus', this time not in Guilpin but in a play by Jonson. In Act III, sc. 2 of Poetaster (1601), which is ostensibly set in ancient Rome, Jonson briefly introduces a character called Fuscus Aristius. Fuscus Aristius was in fact the name of a literary friend of the poet Horace, whom he mentions in his Odes and in a passage from his satires (Sat. I, ix 60-74). The scene in Poetaster follows the action of Horace's satire closely: the poet Horace is dogged by a bore, tries and fails to shake him, meets Fuscus, begs for rescue, but Fuscus finds the situation funny and instead of intervening, ducks into the nearby house of their patron Maecenas to fetch him to share the joke.
Throughout Poetaster Jonson uses the character of Horace to represent himself. The nameless bore of Horace's satire becomes Jonson's character 'Crispinus', identified with contemporary writer John Marston. I would guess that the mischievous 'Fuscus Aristius' may also have been a stage representation of a real man - Thomas Nashe. This leaves me with the problem of explaining how Guilpin could have been using the same nickname for the same man some three years earlier; and I have no answer. It's worth noting though that in his 'Apologetical Dialogue' to Poetaster Jonson claims he is responding to provocations that began three years before, which does indeed take us back to 1598. That was the year Guilpin published Skialetheia, which apart from its references to Nashe has an epigram mocking 'Chrisoganus': and Chrisoganus is the character in Marston's Histriomastix generally taken to partly-represent Jonson.
I'm tempted to guess that like Spenser and Harvey and their circle of a generation before, the up-and-coming poets of the late '90s also had recognised bynames for each other. Perhaps Jonson and Nashe, who were certainly collaborating by 1597, liked to be known as Horace and Fuscus. Perhaps Marston and Guilpin thought 'Horace' was a rather ambitious name for a bricklayer-turned-actor to christen himself with, and substituted 'Chrisoganus'. But 'Fuscus' remained the recognised nickname for Nashe?