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

William Bullein A Dialogue Against the Fever Pestilence 1564

“Fellowes are so braine sicke now adaies if thei haue but tenne shillynges, yea, though thei doe borowe it, will be twoo or three times a yere at Westminster haule ; let wife or children begge ; & in the ende thei go home many miles, by foolam crosse, by weepyng cross, by beggers Barne, and by knaues Acre, &c. This commeth of their lawing ; then thei crie, might doe ouer come right, would I had knowen as muche before, I am undone, &c. “


The text includes classical references, items from morality plays, and early usages of popular turns of phrase. The phrase”to go home by” is identical with early examples of the Beggars Bush phrase. The alternative places are all proverbial. This shows that the usage with Beggars Bush is only a variation of a proverbial phrase. The context is almost identical to the circumstances of the Plumpton Correspondence using the similar Beggar Staff.

There are several Beggars Barn and Weeping Cross place names. Robert Greene who used Beggars Bush also uses Weeping Cross in a similar context in the same work. Knaves Acre appears in Ditchling, Kent (where there is a Beggars Bush) and Soham, Cambridgeshire, and London as place name, and in the name of a play Sixteen string Jack; or, The knaves of Knaves’ Acre : a romantic original drama, in two acts, by Thomas Wilks (1812-1854)


William Bullein (c.1515–1576) was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Nothing his known of his early education, but he was appointed rector of Blaxhall, Suffolk in 1550. He resigned from this position in 1554 on the accession of Queen Mary, and like many Protestants went to the Continent. He seems to have studied medicine in Germany, and on returning to England set up practice in Northumberland and Durham. Here he came under the patronage of Sir Thomas Hilton, Baron Hilton, at whose home he wrote A Newe Booke Entituled the Gouernement of Healthe (1559) in dialogue form. After Hilton’s death Bullein married his widow and moved to Grub Street, London in 1560. Bullein was unsuccessfully prosecuted by Hilton’s brother for his murder, and pursued by him for debts. His next publication Bulleins Bulwarke of Defence Againste All Sicknes, Sornes, and Woundes was written in a debtor’s prison, from which he was released in 1562. Bullein appears to have developed a successful practice as a physician, though he never became a member of the Royal College.


The Dialogue was his fourth book and most popular book. Two further editions were printed in the 1570s and reprinted in the 1580s and 1590s.

The Dialogue was written in a lively style mixing medicine, morality, and entertainment. Thomas Nashe explicitly adopted Bullein’s dialogue style for his Have with You to Saffron Walden (1596), and it may have influenced Ben Jonson in Volpone.

Bullein attacked the sins of society, including enclosure, and the belated charity of those facing death. A usurer on his deathbed discuss the causes of the plague with his atheistical physician, while two lawyers, Avarus and Ambodexter, plot to influence his will. The phrase occurs in a section set in a country inn where, on the journey into the country to avoid the plague, a wealthy burgher and his wife stop with their servant Roger. He contributes quaint country wit, including this advice. When they are broken up by a storm, Roger considers joining the vagabonds.


William Bullein, A Dialogue Against the Fever Pestilence, 1564

London, 1864 reprint by Early English Text Society – accessed 21.11.10


Posted: March 10th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

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