Gosson’s School of Abuse

Excerpts from The Schoole of Abuse
by Stephen Gosson, 1579

Containing a pleasant invective against Poets,Pipers, Players, Jesters and such-like Caterpillars of a commonwealth;
Setting up the Flag of Defiance to their mischievous exercise, and overthrowing their Bulwarks, by profane [secular, pagan] writers,
Natural reason, and common experience:
A discourse as pleasant for Gentlemen that favor learning,
as profitable for all that will follow virtue.
By Stephen Gosson, Stud[ent of]. Oxon [Oxford University].
Printed at London, for Thomas Woodcocke, 1579.

Therefore as I cannot but commend his wisdom, which in banqueting feeds most upon that that doth nourish best, so must I dispraise his method in writing, which, following the course of amorous Poets, dwelleth longest in those points, that profit least and, like a wanton whelp [untrained hunting dog] leaveth the game to run riot.  The scarab [beetle] flies over many a sweet flower and lightes in a cowsherd.  It is the custom of the fly to leave the sound places of the horse and suck at the botch (anus); the nature of colloquintida, to draw the worst humors to itself; the manner of swine, to forsake the fair fields, and wallow in the mire.  And the whole practice of Poets, either with fables to show their abuses, or with plain terms to unfold their mischief, discover their shame, discredit themselves, and disperse their poison through all the world.  Virgil sweats in describing his Gnat: Ouid bestirreth him to paint out his Flea : the one shows his art in the lust of Dido, the other his cunning in the incest of Myrrha and [in] that trumpet of bawdry, the Craft of Love [Ars Amatoria].

But if you look well to Epæus horse [the Trojan horse], you shall find in his bowels the destruction of Troy; open the sepulchre of Semiramis, whose title promiseth such wealth to the Kings of Persia, you shall see nothing but dead bones; rip up the golden ball that Nero consecrated to Jupiter Capitollinus, you shall have it stuffed with the shavings of his beard: pull off the visor that Poets mask in, you shall disclose their reproach, betray their vanity, loathe their wantonness, lament their folly, and perceive their sharp sayings to be placed as peerless in dunghills, fresh pictures on rotten walls, chaste matrons’ apparel on common courtesans.  These are the cups of Circe that turn reasonable creatures into brute beasts, the balls of Hippomenes, that hinder the course of Atalanta, and the blocks of the Devil that are cast in our ways to cut off the race of toward wits [persons with potential].  No marvel though Plato shut them out of his school and banished them quite [completely] from his commonwealth as effeminate writers, unprofitable members, and utter enemies to virtue.

Tullie [Cicero was] accustomed to read them with great diligence in his youth, but when he waxed graver in study, older in years, riper in judgement, he accounted them the fathers of lies, pipes of vanity, and schools of abuse [invective].

I may well liken Homer to Mithecus, and poets to cooks, the pleasures of the one win the body from labor and conquereth the sense; the allurement of the other draws the mind from virtue and confoundeth wit.

Salust in describing the nurture of Sempronia, commendeth her wit in that she could frame herself to all companies, to talk discretely with wise men and vainly with wantons, taking a quip ere it came to ground and returning it back without a fault.  She was taught (saith he) both Greek and Latin, she could versify, sing, and dance, better then became an honest [chaste] woman.

. . . [A]re not they accursed, think you, by the mouth of God, which, having the government of young princes, with poetical fantasies draw them to the schools of their own abuses, bewitching the grain in the green blade that was sowed for the sustenance of many thousands and poisoning the spring with their amorous lays whence  [from which] the whole commonwealth should fetch water?

And because I have been matriculated myself in the school where so many abuses flourish, I will imitate the dogs of Egypt, which coming to the banks of Nylus [the Nile] to quench their thirst, sip and away, drink running lest they be snapped short for a prey to crocodiles.  I should tell tales out of . . . school and be ferruled [beaten] for my fault or hissed at for a blab if I laid all the orders open before your eyes.  You are no sooner entered but liberty looseth the reins and gives you [your] head [choice], placing you with Poetry in the lowest form. When his  [Poetry’s?] skill is shown to make his scholar as good as ever twanged, he prefers you [leads you] to Piping, from Piping to playing, from play to pleasure, from pleasure to sloth, from sloth to sleep, from sleep to sin, from sin to death, from death to the Devil, if you take your learning apace [accept the regimen] and pass through every form [level] without revolting.  Look not to have me discourse these at large, the crocodile watcheth to take me tardy, whichsoeuer of them I touch, is a vile.  Trip and go, for I dare not tarry.

Poetry and piping, have always been so united together, that till the time of Melanippides, Pipers were Poets hirelings.  But mark, I pray you, how they are now both abused.

Pythagoras bequeaths them a cloakbag and condemns them for fools that judge Music by sound and ear.  If you will be good scholars, and profit well in the art of Music, shut your fiddles in their cases and look up to heaven, the order of the spheres, the infallible motion of the planets, the just course of the year, and variety of seasons, the concord of the elements and their qualities, Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Heat, Cold, Moisture and Drought concuring together to the constitution of earthly bodies and sustenance of euery creature.

We haue infinite Poets and Pipers and such peevish cattle among us in England, that live by merry begging, maintained by alms, and privily encroached upon everyman’s purse.  But if they that are in authority and have the sword in their hand to cut off abuses, should call an account to see how many Chirons, Terpandri, and Homers are here, they might cast the sum without pen or counters and sit down with Rachel to weep for her children because they were not.

The Argives appointed by their laws great punishments for such as placed above 7 strings upon any instrument.  Pythagoras commanded that no musician should go beyond his diapasonWere the Argives and Pythagoras now alive, and saw how many frets, how many strings, how many stops, how many keys, how many clefs, how many moods, how many flats, how many sharps, how many rules, how many spaces, how many notes, how many rests, how many quirks, how many corners, what chopping, what changing, what tossing, what turning, what wresting and wringing is among our musicians, I believe verily that they would cry out with the countryman: Heu quòd tam pingui macer est mihi taurus in aruo: Alas, here is fat feeding and lean beasts; or as one said at the shearing of hogs, great cry and little wool, much ado and small help.

For as Poetry and Piping are cousin germans [close relatives]: so Piping, and Playing are of great affinity, and all three chained in links of abuse.

And they that never go out of their houses for regard of their credit nor step from the university for love of knowledge, seeing but slender offenses and small abuses within their owne walls, will neuer believe that such rocks are abroad, nor such horrible monsters in playing places.

Cooks did never show more craft in their junkets [desserts? sauces?] to vanquish the taste nor painters in shadows [paintings] to allure the eye, than Poets in Theaters to wound the conscience.   There set, they abroche [?] strange consorts of melody to tickle the ear, costly apparell to flatter the sight, effeminate gesture to ravish the senses, and wanton speech to whet desire to inordinate lust.  Therefore, of both barrells, I judge cooks and painters the better hearing [?] for the one extendeth his art no farther than to the tongue, palate, and nose, the other to the eye, and both are ended in outward sense, which is common to us as with brute beasts.  But these by the privy entries of the ear, slip down into the heart and with gunshot of affection gull the mind where Reason and Virtue should rule the roost.

The carpenter raiseth not his frame without tools, nor the Devil his work without instruments: were not Players the means to make these assemblies, such multitudes would hardly be drawn into so narrow [a] room. They seek not to hurt but desire to please; they have purged their comedies of wanton speeches, yet the corn which they sell is full of cockle and the drink that they draw, overcharged with dregs. There is more in them then we perceive, the Devil stands at our elbow when we see not, speak when we hear him not, strikes when we feel not, and woundeth sore when he raiseth no skin nor rends the flesh. In those things that we least mistrust the greatest danger doth often lurk.

Meantime if Players be called to account for the abuses that grow by their assemblies, I would not have them answer as Pilades did for the Theaters of Rome when they were complained on and Augustus waxed angry: “This resort O Cæsar is good for thee, for here we keep thousands of idle heads occupied, which else peradventure would brew some mischief.

This have I set down of the abuses of Poets, Pipers, and Players which bring us to pleasure, sloth, sleep, sin, and without repentance to death and the Devil: which I have not confirmed by authority of the Scriptures, because they are not able to stand up in the sight of God: and sithens they dare not abide in the field where the word of God doth bid them [do] battle, but run to antiquity (though nothing be more ancient then holy Scripture) I have given them a volley of profane [secular or pagan] writers to begin the skirmish, and done my endeavor to beat them from their holds with their own weapons.

Let us but shut up our ears to Poets, Pipers and Players, pull our feet back from resort to Theaters and turn away our eyes from beholding of vanity, the greatest storm of abuse will be overblown and a fair path trodden to amendment of life. Were not we so foolish to taste every drug and buy every trifle, Players would shut in [up] their shops and carry their trash to some other country.

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