The Autobiography of Thomas Whythorne

By James M. Osborn; Thomas Whythorne | Go to book overview
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THE recovery of Thomas Whythorne Book of Songs and Sonetts is a propitious event from every point of view. To the literary historian it adds a new Tudor poet and the earliest 'modern' autobiography in English. To the social historian it provides new evidence of the manners and customs of our Elizabethan ancestors. To the musicologist it offers first-hand testimony of the way one professional music teacher and composer lived and wrote. It comes at a time when interest in Elizabethan poetry, history, and music is at its height: biographies of Queen Elizabeth are in demand around the globe, a fat book on the Spanish Armada stands high on the best-seller lists, the interpretation of Shakespeare has become virtually an industry, and the madrigals of Whythorne's younger contemporaries--Morley, Byrd, Dow- land, and others--are beloved by increasing thousands, thanks to the availability of electronic recordings.

Besides its value as a new source of knowledge about the Elizabethan Age, the Autobiography also enables us to know a new Elizabethan 'Gentleman', and to know him intimately. At the very outset Whythorne stated that his purpose was to 'lay open unto you the most part of all my private affairs and secrets'. This intention he performed diligently, as the reader will agree after he has followed Whythorne's narrative of his tortured relationships with his 'Suds-of-Soap' mistress, with 'the Court Lady', with 'the £20 Widow', and others. The result of these revelations is the recovery after nearly four hundred years of a colourful personality, drawn with the veracity of a self-portrait.

Because Whythorne chose to write in a 'new orthografye' of his own devising, some readers may at the first dip find his pages slow going. With the aid of the brief explanation of his spelling system (printed at the end of the Introduction) readers should soon proceed swimmingly. To those who persist, the 'new orthografye' should add a special pleasure, for here is an Elizabethan taking pains to tell us how his words sounded in


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