And to begin with this his history that ensueth, it was (as he declared unto me) written upon this occasion. The said F. J. chanced once, in the north parts of this Realm, to fall in company of a very fair gentlewoman whose name was Mistress Eleanor, unto whom bearing a hot affection, he first adventured to write this letter following.
Mistress, I pray you understand that being altogether a stranger in these parts, my good hap hath been to behold you to my (no small) contentation, and my evil hap accompanies the same with such imperfection of my deserts as that I find always a ready repulse in mine own frowardness. So that considering the natural climate of the country, I must say that I have found fire in frost. And yet comparing the inequality of my deserts with the least part of your worthiness, I feel a continual frost in my most fervent fire.
Such is then th'extremity of my passions, the which I could never have been content to commit unto this telltale paper were it not that I am destitute of all other help. Accept therefore, I beseech you, the earnest good will of a more trusty than worthy servant, who, being thereby encouraged, may supply the defects of his ability with ready trial of dutiful loyalty. And let this poor paper (besprent with salt tears, and blowen over with scalding sighs) be saved of you as a safe guard for your sampler, or a bottom to wind your sowing silk, that when your last needlefull is wrought, you may return to reading thereof and consider the care of him who is
This letter by her received (as I have heard him say) her answer was this:
She took occasion one day at his request to dance with him, the which doing, she bashfully began to declare unto him that she had read over the writing which he delivered unto her, with like protestation, that, as at delivery thereof, she understood not for what cause he thrust the same into her bosom, so now she could not perceive thereby any part of his meaning, nevertheless at last seemed to take upon her the matter, and though she disabled herself, yet gave him thanks as &c.
Whereupon he brake the brawl, and walking abroad devised immediately these few verses following.
Fair Bersabe the bright once, bathing in a Well,
With dew bedimm'd King David's eyes that ruled Israel,
And Salomon himself, the source of sapience,
Against the force of such assaults could make but small defense:
To it the stoutest yield, and strongest feel like woe,
Bold Hercules and Samson both did prove it to be so.
What wonder seemeth then, when stars stand thick in skies,
If such a blazing star have power to dim my dazzled eyes?
L'envoie.To you these few suffice, your wits be quick and good,
You can conject by change of hue what humors feed my blood.
I have heard the Author say, that these were the first verses that ever he wrote upon like occasion. The which, considering the matter precedent, may in my judgment be well allowed, and to judge his doings by the effects, he declared unto me that before he could put the same in legible writing, it pleased the said Mistress Eleanor of her courtesy thus to deal with him.
Walking in a garden among divers other gentlemen & gentlewomen, with a little frowning smile in passing by him, she delivered unto him a paper with these words: "For that I understand not," quoth she, "th'intent of your letters, I pray you take them here again, and bestow them at your pleasure." The which done and said, she passed by without change either of pace or countenance.
F. J. somewhat troubled with her angry look, did suddenly leave the company, & walking into a park near adjoining, in great rage began to wreak his malice on this poor paper, and the same did rend and tear in pieces. When suddenly at a glance he perceived it was not of his own handwriting, and therewithal abashed, upon better regard he perceived in one piece thereof written in Roman these letters SHE:, wherefore placing all the pieces thereof as orderly as he could, he found therein written these few lines hereafter following.
Your sudden departure from our pastime yesterday did enforce me for lack of chosen company to return unto my work, wherein I did so long continue till at the last the bare bottom did draw unto my remembrance your strange request. And although I found therein no just cause to credit your colored words, yet have I thought good hereby to requite you with like courtesy, so that at least you shall not condemn me for ungrateful.
But as to the matter therein contained, if I could persuade myself that there were in me any coals to kindle such sparks of fire, I might yet peradventure be drawn to believe that your mind were frozen with like fear. But as no smoke ariseth where no coal is kindled, so without cause of affection the passion is easy to be cured. This is all that I understand of your dark letters. And as much as I mean to answer.
My friend F. J. hath told me divers times that immediately upon receipt hereof, he grew in jealousy that the same was not her own device. And therein I have no less allowed his judgment then commended his invention of the verses and letters before rehearsed. For as by the style this letter of hers bewrayeth that it was not penned by a woman's capacity, so the sequel of her doings may decipher that she had mo' ready clerks then trusty servants in store.
Well, yet as the perfect hound, when he hath chased the hurt deer amid the whole herd, will never give over till he have singled it again, even so F. J., though somewhat abashed with this doubtful show, yet still constant in his former intention, ceased not by all possible means to bring this Deer yet once again to the Bows whereby she might be the more surely stricken, and so in the end enforced to yield. Wherefore he thought not best to commit the said verses willingly into her custody, but privily lost them in her chamber, written in counterfeit. And after on the next day thought better to reply, either upon her or upon her Secretary, in this wise as here followeth.
The much that you have answered is very much, and much more than I am able to reply unto. Nevertheless, in mine own defense thus much I allege: that if my sudden departure pleased not you, I cannot myself therewith be pleased, as one that seeketh not to please many and more desirous to please you then any.
The cause of mine affection, I suppose you behold daily, for (self love avoided) every wight may judge of themselves as much as reason persuadeth. The which if it be in your good nature suppressed with bashfulness, then mighty love grant you may once behold my wan cheeks washed in woe that therein my salt tears may be a mirror to represent your own shadow, and that like unto Narcissus you may be constrained to kiss the cold waves wherein your counterfeit is so lively portrayed.
For if abundance of other matters failed to draw my gazing eyes in contemplation of so rare excellency, yet might these your letters both frame in me an admiration of such divine esprit and a confusion to my dull understanding which so rashly presumed to wander in this endless Labyrinth.
Such I esteem you, and thereby am become such, and even
HE. F. J.
This letter finished and fair written over, his chance was to meet her alone in a Gallery of the same house: where (as I have heard him declare) his manhood in this kind of combat was first tried, and therein I can compare him to a valiant Prince, who distressed with power of enemies had committed the safeguard of his person to treaty of Ambassade, and suddenly (surprised with a Camisado in his own trenches) was enforced to yield as prisoner. Even so my friend F. J., lately overcome by the beautiful beams of this Dame Eleanor, and having now committed his most secret intent to these late rehearsed letters, was at unawares encountered with his friendly foe, and constrained either to prepare some new defense, or else like a recreant to yield himself as already vanquished.
Wherefore (as in a trance) he lifted up his dazzled eyes, & so continued in a certain kind of admiration, not unlike the Astronomer who (having, after a whole nights travail, in the grey morning found his desired star) hath fixed his hungry eyes to behold the Comet long looked for: whereat this gracious Dame (as one that could discern the sun before her chamber windows were wide open) did deign to embolden the fainting Knight with these or like words.
"I perceive now," quoth she, "how mishap doth follow me, that having chosen this walk for a simple solace, I am here disquieted by the man that meaneth my destruction." & therewithal, as half angry, began to turn her back, when as my friend F. J., now awaked, 'gan thus salute her.
"Mistress," quoth he, "and I perceive now that good hap haunts me, for being by lack of opportunity constrained to commit my welfare unto these blabbing leaves of bewraying paper," (showing that in his hand) "I am here recomforted with happy view of my desired joy." & therewithal, reverently kissing her hand, did softly distrain her slender arm & so stayed her departure.
The first blow thus proffered & defended, they walked & talked traversing divers ways, wherein I doubt not but that my friend F. J. could quit himself reasonably well. And though it stood not with duty of a friend that I should therein require to know his secrets, yet of himself he declared thus much, that after long talk she was contented to accept his proffered service, but yet still disabling herself and seeming to marvel what cause had moved him to subject his liberty so willfully, or at least in a prison (as she termed it) so unworthy.
Whereunto I need not rehearse his answer but suppose now that thus they departed: saving I had forgotten this, she required of him the last rehearsed letter, saying that his first was lost & now she lacked a new bottom for her silk, the which I warrant you he granted: and so proffering to take an humble congé by Bezo las manos, she graciously gave him the zuccado dez labros: and so for then departed.
And thereupon recounting her words, he compiled these following, which he termed Terza sequenza, to sweet Mistress SHE.
Of thee dear Dame, three lessons would I learn:
What reason first persuades the foolish Fly
(As soon as she a candle can discern)
To play with flame till she be burnt thereby?
Or what may moue the Mouse to bite the bait
Which strikes the trap that stops her hungry breath?
What calls the Bird where snares of deep deceit
Are closely couch'd to draw her to her death?
Consider well what is the cause of this,
And though percase thou wilt not so confess,
Yet deep desire, to gain a heavenly bliss,
May drown the mind in dole and dark distress:
Oft is it seen (whereat my heart may bleed)
Fools play so long till they be caught in deed.
It is a heaven to see them hop and skip,
And seek all shifts to shake their shackles off:
It is a world, to see them hang the lip
Who erst at love were wont to scorn and scoff.
But as the Mouse, once caught in crafty trap,
May bounce and beat against the boarden wall,
Till she have brought her head in such misshape,
That down to death her fainting limbs must fall:
And as the Fly once singed in the flame,
Cannot command her wings to wave away:
But by the heel, she hangeth in the same
Till cruel death her hasty journey stay.
So they that seek to break the links of love
Strive with the stream, and this by pain I prove.
I first beheld that heavenly hue of thine,
Thy stately stature and thy comely grace,
I must confess these dazzled eyes of mine
Did wink for fear, when I first view'd thy face:
But bold desire did open them again,
And bad me look till I had look'd too long,
I pitied them that did procure my pain,
And lov'd the looks that wrought me all the wrong:
And as the Bird once caught but works her woe
That strives to leave the limed twigs behind:
Even so the more I strave to part thee fro',
The greater grief did grow within my mind:
Remediless then must I yield to thee
And crave no more, thy servant but to be.
Till then and ever. HE. F.J.
When he had well sorted this sequence, he sought oportunity to leave it where she might find it before it were lost.
The Adventures of Master F. J. by George Gascoigne, 1573