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1596: A Letter from Thomas Nashe to his friend, Mr. William Cotton

PLEASE NOTE: This is my own modernized version of the text.
For the original spelling and language, click here.
For an image of the actual letter, visit the excellent Luminarium site.

  To my worshipful good friend Mr. William Cotton give these:
This tedious dead vacation is to me as unfortunate as a term at Hertford or St. Albans to poor country clients, or as Jack Cade's rebellion to the lawyers, wherein they hanged up the Lord Chief Justice. In town I stayed (being earnestly invited elsewhere) upon had-I-wist hopes, and an after-harvest I expected by writing for the stage and the press; when now the players - as if they had writ another Christ's Tears - are piteously persecuted by the Lord Mayor and the aldermen, and however in their old lord's time they thought their state settled, it is now so uncertain they cannot build upon it; and for the printers, there is such gaping amongst them for the copy of my Lord of Essex voyage and the ballad of the threescore and four knights, that though my lord Marquis write a second part of his fever lurden or idleness....or Churchyard enlarge his chips, saying they were the very same which Christ in Carpenters Hall is painted gathering up, as Joseph his father stands hewing a piece of timber and Mary his mother sits spinning by - yet would not they give for them the price of a proclamation out of date, or (which is the contemptiblest sum that may be, worse than a scute or a dandiprat) the price of Doctor Harvey's works bound up together.

Only Mr Harrington of late hath set up such a filthy stinking jakes in Paul's churchyard, that the stationers would give any money for a cover for it. What should move him to it I know not, except he meant to bid a turd in all gentle readers' teeth: or whereas Don Diego & Brackenbury beshit Paul's, to prevent the like incon venience he hath revived an old Inns a Court trick of turning turds out in a paper, and framed close stools for them to carry in their pockets, as gentlewomen do their sponges th[ ] [ ] O, it is detestable and abominable! far worse then Munday's ballad of Untruss, or Gillian a Brainford's Will. in which she bequeathed a score of farts amongst her friends, [and] able to make any man have a stinking breath that looks but on the outside of it. Sure had I been of his cousel he should have set for the motto or word before it 'Faugh!', and dedicated it to the house of the Shakerlies, give for their arms three dog's turds reeking.

For my part I pity him, and pray for him that he may have many good stools to his last ending; and so I would wish all his friends to pray, for otherwise it is to be feared that - according as Seneca reports the last words Claudius Caesar was heard to speake were Hei! mihi vereor concacaui me - so he will die with a turd in his mouth at his last gasp, and be coffined up in a jakesfarmer's tun, no other nosewise Christian, for his horrible perfume, being able to come near him.

Well 'some men for sorrow sing', as it is in the ballad of John Carelesse in the Book of Martyrs, and I am merry whe[n] I have ne'er a penny in my purse. God may move you though I say nothing, in which hope that that which will be shall be, I take my leave.

Yours in acknowledgement of the deepest [bond]

1. Will Cotton was the servant of Sir George Carey, governor of the Isle of Wight. He and Carey's secretary, John Snowe, were nominated as MPs to represent Sir George's interest in the 1593 parliament. (Snowe was the man who bailed Nashe from Newgate, where the city authorities had jailed him for slanderous attacks). Nashe was brought to the Island to spend a happy Christmas there. He later dedicated his 'Terrors of the Night' to Carey's teenage daughter. His connection with Will Cotton however may go back that far or even earlier - William Cotton was apparently related to Sir Robert Cotton, with whom Nashe spent time in early 1593. See also more on Cotton.

2. 'Mr Harrington' is Sir John Harington, the Queen's godson and author of a remarkable work called The History of Ajax. Though Harington was considered an amusing writer and the title of his work is a pun on 'a jakes' (Elizabethan slang for a privy), the book actually described a functioning water closet which would flush away sewage into a drain. It didn't catch on. Nashe treats the whole idea as a joke, and is suitably scatological about it.