Elizabethan Households: An Anthology

By Lena Cowen Orlin | Go to book overview

The Householder's Study

THOMAS HEYWOOD, attributed author


The Phoenix of these Late Times: Or, The Life of M[aste]r Henry Welby, Esq.; Who Lived at his House in Grub-street Forty Foure Yeares, and in that Space, was Never Seene by Any (London, 1637)

The study was an exclusive space, far more private than the bedchamber and, with certain very rare exceptions, reserved for men. The space is a suitable symbol of the self-imposed isolation of Henry Welby, who reportedly withdrew from the world in the face of his younger brother's unexplained but deadly antagonism. As he died at the age of eight-four, he evidently went into seclusion at forty. The pamphleteer, who has been identified as Thomas Heywood in part because one of a series of commendatory poems is signed by him, emphasizes that Welby did not sacrifice charity and good householding to his asceticism.

The two brothers meeting face to face, the younger drew a pistol charged with a double bullet from his side and presented upon the elder, which only gave fire, but by the miraculous providence of God no further report. At which the elder, seizing upon the younger, disarmed him of his tormentary engine and, without any further violence offered, so left him. Which bearing to his chamber, and desirous to find whether it were only a false fire, merely to fright him, or a charge, speedily to dispatch him--when he found the bullets and apprehended the danger he had escaped, he fell into many deep considerations. . . . He might be the occasion of shortening his own innocent life and hastening his brother's shameful and infamous death. . . . Since he could not enjoy his face with safety, he would ever after deny the sight of his own face to all men whatsoever.

And upon the former considerations he grounded this irrevocable resolution, which he kept to his dying day. Which that he might the better observe, he took a very fair house in the lower end of Grub Street, near unto Cripplegate. And having contracted a numerous retinue into a private and small family, having the house before prepared for his purpose, he entered the door, choosing to himself out of all the rooms three private chambers, best suiting with his intended solitude: the first for his diet, the second for his lodging, and the third for his study, one within another. And the while his diet was set on the table by one of his servants, an old maid, he retired into his lodging-chamber. And while his bed was making, into his study, still doing so, till all was clear. And there he set up his rest, and in forty-four years never, upon any occasion, how great soever, issued out of those chambers, till he was borne thence upon men's shoulders. Neither in all that time did son-in-law, daughter, or grandchild, brother, sister, or kinsman, stranger, tenant, or servant, young, or old, rich, or poor, of what degree or condition soever, look upon his face, saving the ancient maid, whose name was Elizabeth, who made his fire, prepared his bed, provided his diet, and dressed his chamber--which was very seldom, or upon an extraordinary necessity that he saw her, which maidservant died not above six days before him.

As touching his abstinence in all the time of his retirement, he never tasted flesh nor fish. He never drank either wine or strong water; his chief food was oatmeal boiled with water, which some call gruel, and in summer, now and then a salad of some choice cool herbs. For dainties, or when he would feast himself upon an high day, he would eat the

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