Percy's Reliques - Little John Nobody.

Little John Nobody.

            We have here a witty libel on the Reformation under King Edward VI. written about the year 1550, and preserved in the Pepys Collection, British Museum, and Strype's Memoirs of Cranmer. The author artfully declines entering into the merits of the cause, and wholly reflects on the lives and actions of many of the Reformed. It is so easy to find flaws and imperfections in the conduct of men, even the best of them, and still easier to make general exclamations about the profligacy of the present times, that no great point is gained by arguments of that sort, unless the author could have proved that the principles of the Reformed Religion had a natural tendency to produce a corruption of manners; whereas he indirectly owns, that their Reverend Father [Archbishop Cranmer] had used the most proper means to stem the torrent, by giving the people access to the scriptures, by teaching them to pray with understanding, and by publishing homilies, and other religious tracts. It must however be acknowledged, that our libeller had at that time sufficient room for just satire. For under the banners of the Reformed had inlisted themselves, many concealed papists, who had private ends to gratify; many that were of no religion; many greedy courtiers, who thirsted after the possessions of the church; and many dissolute persons, who wanted to be exempt from all ecclesiastical censures: and as these men were loudest of all others in their cries for Reformation, so in effect none obstructed the regular progress of it so much, or by their vicious lives brought vexation and shame more on the truly venerable and pious Reformers.

            The reader will remark the fondness of our satirist for alliteration: in this he was guilty of no affectation or singularity; his versification is that of Pierce Plowman's Visions, in which a recurrence of similar letters is essential: to this he has only superadded rhyme, which in his time began to be the general practice. See an Essay on this very peculiar kind of metre, prefixed to Book vi.

IN December, when the dayes draw to be short,
After November, when the nights wax noysome and long;
As I past by a place privily at a port,
I saw one sit by himself making a song:
His last[ 1] talk of trifles, who told with his tongue
That few were fast i' th' faith. I freyned that freake,
Whether he wanted wit, or some had done him wrong.
He said, he was little John Nobody, that durst not speake.

"John Nobody," quoth I, "what news? thou soon note and tell
What manner men thou meane, thou art so mad."
He said, "These gay gallants, that wil construe the gospel,
As Solomon the sage, with semblance full sad;
To discusse divinity they nought adread;
More meet it were for them to milk kye at a fleyke."
"Thou lyest," quoth I, "thou losel, like a leud lad."
He said he was little John Nobody, that durst not speake.

"Its meet for every man on this matter to talk,
And the glorious gospel ghostly to have in mind;
It is sothe said, that sect but much unseemly skalk;
As boyes babble in books, that in scripture are blind;
Yet to their fancy soon a cause will find;
As to live in lust, in lechery to leyke:
Such caitives count to become of Cains kind;[ 2]
But that I, little John Nobody durst not speake.

"For our reverend father hath set forth an order,
Our service to be said in our seignours tongue;
As Solomon the sage set forth the scripture;
Our suffrages, and services, with many a sweet song,
With homilies, and godly books us among,
That no stiff, stubborn stomacks we should freyke:
But wretches nere worse to do poor men wrong;
But that I little John Nobody dare not speake.

"For bribery was never so great, since born was our Lord,
And whoredom was never les hated, sith Christ harrowed hel,
And poor men are so sore punished commonly through the world,
That it would grieve any one, that good is, to hear tel.
For al the homilies and good books, yet their hearts be so quel,
That if a man do amisse, with mischiefe they wil him wreake;
The fashion of these new fellows it is so vile and fell:
But that I little John Nobody dare not speake.

"Thus to live after their lust, that life would they have,
And in lechery to leyke al their long life;
For al the preaching of Paul, yet many a proud knave
Wil move mischiefe in their mind both to maid and wife
To bring them in advoutry, or else they wil strife,
And in brawling about baudery, Gods commandments breake:
But of these frantic it fellowes, few of them do thrife;
Though I little John Nobody dare not speake.

"If thou company with them, they will currishly carp, and not care
According to their foolish fantacy; but fast wil they naught:
Prayer with them is but prating; therefore they it forbear:
Both almes deeds, and holiness, they hate it in their thought:
Therefore pray we to that prince, that with his bloud us bought,
That he wil mend that is amiss: for many a manful freyke
Is sorry for these sects, though they say little or nought;
And that I little John Nobody dare not once speake.

"Thus in NO place, this NOBODY, in NO time I met,
Where NO man, ne NOUGHT was, nor NOTHING did appear;
Through the sound of a synagogue for sorrow I swet,
That Aeolus through the eccho did cause me to hear.
Then I drew me down into a dale, whereas the dumb deer
Did shiver for a shower; but I shunted from a freyke:
For I would no wight in this world wist who I were,
But little John Nobody, that dare not once speake.

NOTES

1. Perhaps "He left talk."

2. So in Pierce the Plowman's creed, the proud friars are said to be

-- Of Caymes kind." Vid. Sig. C ij b.

 

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