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To talke in the darke

Today’s post is on the life of John Florio (1553-1625), Italian language teacher and contemporary of Shakespeare.

John’s father, Michael, was a former Franciscan monk, who escaped the Inquisition and fled to England during the reign of Edward VI. In 1550, Michael began preaching at a newly-formed Italian Protestant church in London, but after falling out of favour with other members of the church, he turned to teaching Italian in order to support his family. Two of his more famous students included Henry Herbert, second earl of Pembroke, and Lady Jane Grey.

In 1554, the Catholic Mary Tudor ascended the throne, and Michael, like many foreign exiles, was forced to leave England. He and his family settled in Soglio, Switzerland, near the Italian border. At the age of ten, John was sent to study under the Italian refugee Vergerio, a former bishop, but when his father died, he returned to Soglio, and by 1576 John Florio was back in England.

In London, John turned his hand to teaching Italian, and in 1578 he published his first handbook, Florio his Firste Fruites, which he dedicated to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. First Fruites is comprised of forty-four chapters of typical conversations and interactions, and a guide to Italian grammar.

 

Page from Florio’s First Fruites (1578). Right click to open a large image in a new tab.
Around the time he published his First Fruites, Florio moved to Oxford, where he taught Italian at the university and became friends with the poet Samuel Daniel. He married Daniel’s sister in 1580 and they baptized their first child, Joane, in Oxford in 1585. Their second child, Edward, was born in 1588, and another, Elizabeth, in 1589. During his time in Oxford, Florio published A shorte and briefe narration of the two navigations and discoveries to the northweast partes called Newe Fraunce (1580), an English  translation of Ramusio’s Italian version of the work by Jacques Cartier. 

In 1583 Florio and his family returned to London, and for two years he was employed by the French embassy as a tutor to the daughter of the French ambassador. During this time it is believed he also worked as a spy for Francis Walsingham, a common activity, and one undertaken by many literary men, including Christopher Marlowe. Florio was also occupied translating newsletters from Italy, which he published in one pamphlet, A letter lately written from Rome, by an Italian gentleman to a freende of his in Lyons in Fraunce (1585).

In 1591 Florio published a second language book entitled Florios Second Frutes, which contained 6000 Italian proverbs in the appended Gardine of Recreation; the largest list of proverbs to be published in the 16th century.

Second Frutes (1591)

  Proverbs from Second Frutes 


Second Frutes was aimed at the upper classes, and contains a wealth of fascinating conversations surrounding daily life, such as visiting the theatre, playing tennis, and attending dinner parties. Interest in languages and all things Italian was at its height in England at this time, and as his biographer notes, ‘Florio offered the Elizabethans a vehicle for discovering Italy, its language, and its Renaissance culture without necessarily travelling to the continent.’ 

In 1598, Florio published the first edition of a Worlde of Wordes, or Most Copius, and Exact Dictionarie in English and Italian. According to the titles he lists at the beginning of the book, he consulted seventy-two works by 16th century writers, to provide over 44,000 entries in English and Italian. But his most famous work was published in 1603; a translation of Montaigne’s Essais, entitled The Essayes, or, Morall, Politike and Militarie Discourses. By this point he had severable well-connected patrons including Lady Elizabeth Grey, Lady Penelope Rich and Lady Mary Neville. This translation of Montaigne was a source of inspiration for Walter Raleigh, Ben Jonson, John Webster and William Shakespeare.  



Florio’s star was in the ascendant, and in 1604 he was appointed groom of the privy chamber, and reader in Italian, and as private secretary to Queen Anne. He tutored the royal family in Italian and French, and revised his dictionary, which he republished in 1611 as Queen Anna’s New World of Words. This new edition included almost 70,000 entries, and covers such subjects as history, astrology, philosophy and medicine. This edition also included an engraved portrait of Florio, which can be seen above.

In 1617, Florio remarried a woman named Rose Spicer, and when the queen died in 1619, he lost his place at court. Later that year he and his wife were living in poverty in Fulham. Here he worked on a third edition of his dictionary. In October 1625, Florio died of plague, and his wife followed him to the grave a year later. Their daughter Aurelia went on to marry the surgeon James Molins and they had at least nine children.

Florio and Shakespeare were contemporaries and almost certainly knew each other. Shakespeare demonstrates familiarity with Florio’s work in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and in The Tempest, in which he includes a passage from Florio’s translation of Montaigne (2.1). At least twelve plays feature Italy or Italian names. Some theorists have speculated that Shakespeare himself was an Italian, and others that Shakespeare was indeed Florio; the theory going that John’s father Michael was born in Messina to Giovanni Florio and Guglielma Crollalanza (Shakes-pear in English). That he fled to England and assumed the identity of a dead English cousin, his son John then inheriting the real surname Shakespeare.

The Tempest, First Folio (A4r)


Like all authorship theories, there is little evidence to support such claims, and Shakespeare and Florio probably knew each other through the intimate and tight-knit world of the court and London publishers.

John Florio was the leading language teacher of the early 17th Century. His knowledge of Italian Renaissance literature and his elegant writing contributed, according to his biographer, ‘to the regeneration of English humanism in the latter part of the sixteenth century and to its consolidation at the beginning of the seventeenth.’

From a modern perspective, Florio’s work, particularly the two Frutes, provides charming and revealing evidence of every day life and interaction in 17th Century London, which makes a rich contribution to our understanding of the world of Shakespeare.

You can read some of Florio’s entertaining conversations here

Source: Desmond O Connor, DNB

  © 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Art Arte of Gardening Biography Books Crime Curiosities Medicine Music Poetry Shakespeare

Carnivalesque 64

Fragments is very pleased to be hosting the 64th edition of Early Modern Carnivalesque, a gathering of some of the most interesting blog posts from the early modern blogging community.

First up we have the fate of the Wedgewood Museum over at the award-winning Georgian London. Lucy Inglis considers the plight of the Wedgewood Collection, and its formation under artisan Josiah Wedgewood, who died in 1725.

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From the decorative arts, to art of a very different nature, Caroline Rance at The Quack Doctor explores the unusual medicinal practise of diagnosis via urine from 1815.

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Taking a detour from urine to royalty, Nick, at Mercurius Politicus, reveals some intriguing royalist graffiti in Cheam.

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Odd fellows from Roy, at Early Modern Whale, who takes a look at the early modern Fortune Teller.

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‘My appetite is sick for want of a capacity to digest your favours.’ Women in Medieval and Early Modern History offer up some extraordinary early modern chat up lines.
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Once you’ve wooed your beloved, you might like to make them a John Evelyn salad. The Gentleman Administrator reveals all you need to know.

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The World Cup may be over, but the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have devised a means to keep your interest alive. Iago is in mid-field in Shakespeare’s Fantasy Football

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From Iago to a villain of a different kind, Executed Today examines the hanging of pirate John Quelch.    
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Speaking of villains, cartoonist Ade Teal kindly provides us with caricatures of two early modern rogues:



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On the other side of the Atlantic, Warren, artistic director of early modern music ensemble Magnificat, recently visited Spain, and reports back on the 18th century composer Martini’s enormous collection of music manuscripts and partbooks  

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More printing, this time from the Two Nerdy History Girls, who witnessed the early modern printing process in action.
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Sally, over at Travels and Travails in Eighteenth Century England, has been exploring medicinal recipes, including the Lady Puckring’s salve for sore brests.
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From sore breasts to slippery weather, Emily at The Artist’s Progress reveals the history of early modern caricature.
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Art of a different nature from the engraver Mr Read, who entertains with more spectral escapades at The Cogitations of Read.

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And Ben, at Res Obscura, has been getting to grips with some 17th century  apothecary poetry.

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Finally, here at Fragments, I’ve been exploring the last will and testament of Mr William Shakespeare, gent. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Carnivalesque, or would like to be a host, contact the lovely Sharon at Early Modern Web
Books

‘Kettering to Herne Bay’ – The joy of old books

Inspired by The Gentleman Administrator, these snippets are off topic in terms of early modern texts, but do relate to my love of history, and particularly old books.  I often wander around junk shops and flea markets searching for interesting old texts; not only because, in addition to their words, books are often objects of beauty in themselves, but also because they often supply real treasures between the pages.  I was once delighted to find a collection of war poems dating from 1917 in an abandoned box of books at a school fair. When I got home and opened the book, I found a London tram ticket marking a particular poem, dated July 24th 1918. It made me wonder who had been reading the book.  Was it someone commuting home from work, passing the time reading poetry?  And then there are the inscriptions.  Inscriptions often tell us the owner of the book’s name or record a particular event or date.  In short books have a fascinating historiography and always have more than one story to tell.  Below are several of my favourite finds.

This is the frontispiece to the collection of Longfellow poems featured in the photo at the top of this post.  I found the book in a junk shop several years ago.  It is dated 1880 and is tiny, roughly the same dimensions as a playing card.  The inscription reads:

‘Maude Douglas with love and best wishes from Mr Thos Fletcher, April 26th 1881′

The above is inscribed in a 1900 edition of Balzac’s short stories.  Nil Desperandum is perhaps some kind of private joke between the Shilston family and E Heale.

This is the inscription in an 1899 edition of the collected works of Tennyson.  It reads:

‘To Beatrice Jones from A.E.L. In memory of Sept 13th to 25th 1900.  Kettering to Herne Bay’

This is an 1850 edition of Tennyson’s Works.  The book falls open on page 302, half way through a poem entitled In Memoriam A.H.H.  A sprig of rosemary has carefully been pressed between pages 302-3, the flowers resting on the lines:

‘In those sad words I took farewell:
Like echoes in sepulchral halls,
As drop by drop the water falls
In vaults and catacombs, they fell’

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

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