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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVI. London and the Development of Popular Literature

§ 23. Discoverie of the Knights of the Poste

These ephemeral pamphlets are worth quoting, in order to illustrate how varied, as well as elaborate, popular literature was becoming. Even rogue-books began to multiply the artifices of narration. E. S. produced, in 1597, the Discoverie of the Knights of the Poste. These gentry were professional bailees, utilising the name of some respectable citizen to stand surety for any criminal who would make it worth their while. As the average law-breaker was almost certain to be committed for another offence before the year was out, this form of livelihood could be made safe by ordinary precautions. Thus, the booklet is of very moderate interest. But the style is significant. The Discoveries is a connected story recounting a journey undertaken by the author on foot from London to Plymouth. He falls in with two fellow-travellers, and the trio beguile the tedium of the way with anecdotes and personal reminiscences of the knights of the post. The narrative has all the bye-play of a realistic novelette. Each of the author’s companions has his own individuality. Goodcoll is almost destitute, but trusts to his witty tongue for escaping the dilemmas of impecuniosity. Freeman has store of gold, and is so fond of good fellowship, that he not only claims the right to finance the party, but deviates from his own course in order to enjoy their society. We visit the inns at which they lodged, are told of what they drank at night, how they slept and how they breakfasted. Freeman requests both Goodcoll and the author to disburse small sums, since his own wealth is in gold coin which he cannot realise till they come to Exeter. But, when that city is reached, Freeman finds that his store has vanished, and offers an explanation, which, apparently, satisfies the two travellers, but leaves the reader dubious.

Authors who had been through prison now began to clothe their experiences in varied forms. Luke Hutton’s The Blacke Dogge of Newgate (c. 1600) recounts the customs of that institution in a versified description of a vision, followed by a prose dialogue which tells of the amateur thieves to be found amongst the attendants of the prison. The Compter’s Commonwealth (1617), by William Fennor, introduces the humours and tricks of the jest-books, into the usual exposures of roguery. Geffray Mynshul, who had left the debtor’s prison with a lively recollection of its jangling keys, fawning yet tyrannical warders, and embittered or reckless inmates, actually endeavoured to give his friends an idea of these miseries by describing them in essays and character sketches. But the most important pamphleteer of Jacobean London is, undoubtedly, Thomas Dekker.