Philobiblon: The children of "today"

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The children of "today"

From the printer Caxton, who died in 1491

"I see that the children ben borne within the sayd cyte encrease and prouffyte not like their faders and olders; but for mooste parte, after they ben comeyn to theyr perfight yeres of discretion and rypnes of age, kno well that theyre faders have lefte to them grete quantite of goodes, yet scarcely among ten two thrive. O blessed Lord! when I remember this, I am al abashed; I cannot judge the cause; but fayrer ne wyser, ne bet bespeken children in theyre youth ben no wher than there ben in London; but at ther full ryping, there is no carnel, ne good word found en, but chaff for the most part."

As you probably guessed that's original spelling; I've got it all except the "ten two thrive" - is that maybe two-tenths?, and I can't work out "carnel".

This is from a delightful popular history book of 1904, London in the Time of the Tudors, Sir Walter Besant, Adan & Charles Black, London, p. 274

He also makes a nice collection of Elizabethan expletives: "The old Catholic oaths 'By'r Lady', 'By the Mass' and so forth, vanished with the Reformation. We now find a lot of meaningless ejaculations, such as 'God's Wounds', 'God's Fools,' 'God's Dines', Cocke's Bones,' 'Deuce take me', 'Bones a God' and 'Bones a me'. The now familiar 'Damn' makes its appearance in literature; but indeed it had flourished in the mouths of people for many generations." (p. 285-6)

I wonder why "bones" were so popular in this context?


Blogger Penny L. Richards said...

"Scarcely among ten two thrive"--so scarcely two out of ten thrive--20%.

Carnel=Kernel--at their full ripening, there is no kernel...but chaff for the most part.

You're on your own with God's bones...


7/23/2005 11:07:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Penny - I'd never have got kernel!

7/23/2005 11:30:00 pm  
Anonymous She-eep said...

It's traditional for people to swear formal oaths on those things which they hold to be sacred. In our society many people in court swear on their religions' sacred texts or symbols. In Catholic Britain people customarily swore oaths by Catholic symbols and, as is typical in human behaviour, these sacred oaths degenerated into merely insulting swear words: Jesus' wounds (zounds etc), the body and blood of Christ from the mass (ods bodkins and God's blood etc), and also the physical relics of saints and martyrs including bones. There may also be elements of "I'd stake my life on it..." involving swearing by an assumed future life after the resurrection of one's bones in phrases such as "by my bones" or even something similar in today's "on my Mother's grave".
The feminist in me notes that Brits don't swear on "my Father's grave".

Ods bodkins!

7/24/2005 03:03:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks She-eep: sounds like a reasonable theory to me.

7/25/2005 03:03:00 pm  

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