Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Anon Newes from Jack Begger under the Bushe 1594

“Newes from Jack Begger under the Bushe, with the advise of Gregory Gaddesman his fellow begger touchinge the deare prizes of corne and hardnes of this present yere” is the title of a pamphlet entered in The Stationers’ Register for 28 December 28, 1594, licensed to R. Jones.

Sadly, so far as I can see the pamphlet doesn’t survive so I can add little more.The last decades of the sixteenth century included several dearth years when the price of corn increased substantially. Many writers offered their opinion on the causes of this, and their solutions. In 1594 prices were 30% above the long run average. It was the first of four years when prices rose to record levels, mainly as a consequence of heavy rains across Europe.

Poor Jack and Gregory Gaddesman are clearly examples of “characters”. Without the text we cannot tell whether they were intended to be taken seriously or satirically, such as Adam Foulweather. However, it is another example of the bush being an emblem or concept associated with beggary in literary usage. It also echoes the woodcut in John Taylor’s Praise and Antiquity of Beggary.

I have this reference from an online edition of  The rise of formal satire in England under classical influence, by Raymond Macdonald Alden. It is in a footnote to this passage that he wrote in 1899 (p.232-233)

“It was perhaps in the treatment of public affairs that the satires were freest from classical influence and borrowed forms. We have seen that public satire was characteristic of early England, but not of Rome. The condition of the poor, the conflict of both government and populace with economic laws, the corruptions of secular and ecclesiastical officials, were subjects which the Elizabethan satirist inherited from a noble ancestry of protestants, and which he was not likely to forget. The further one inquires into the conduct of government officials during the splendid reign of Queen Elizabeth, the more clear it becomes that political corruption is not, as some have thought, an invention of modern times and democratic constitutions. Of this the passages in our satires relating to official corruption, particularly to bribery, are sufficient evidence. More conspicuous, however, than these political evils, are those relating to such matters as the hardships of tenants, the scarcity of land, and the rise of prices. The depopulation of villages, and the “enclosure” of common lands, evils which had their rise before the age of Elizabeth, extended their baleful results to the latter part of the century, and we find the complaint against them echoing in our satires. The rise in the price of commodities, which was felt most keenly by the lower classes of society, is also a frequent ground of complaint in the literature of the period. Some of the formal satirists no doubt had genuine interest in the sufferings of the common people; but to most of them these matters were doubtless simply common talk which served to furnish convenient material and philanthropic tone to their satires.”


Alden, R.M. The rise of formal satire in England under classical influence, Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania (1899)

W. G. Hoskins, Harvest Conditions Agricultural Hsitory Review, vol. 12, 1964 p.28

Posted: March 26th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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