Wednesday, April 25, 2012

People: Sketch of the Poet as a Buccaneer

The Elizabethan author Thomas Lodge is, perhaps unfortunately, not much remembered today. He had a lovely, lyric style that is available for anyone to enjoy via Google books (here for instance) and he inspired that most admired of all Elizabethan writers, William Shakespeare, to a tremendous degree. So highly was the Bard won over by Lodge that he borrowed from the latter’s romance Rosalynde when writing As You Like It (all you writers out there can interpret that as you will).

Though some, particularly in academic circles, are familiar with Lodge’s writing to this day, few remember his second life as a freebooter in the great age of Elizabethan sea dogs.

Lodge was born some time in 1557 or perhaps 1558 to a man who would shortly become Lord Mayor of London, also Thomas Lodge. The family was clearly in the comfortable middle class and some historians say that Lodge pere was a grocer. Whatever his original profession, the Lord Mayor clearly held high hopes for his son. Lodge fils was educated, according to Britannica online, at Merchant Taylors’ School and Trinity College, Oxford. After that, he went on to study law graduating some time around 1579. This was when his first pamphlets began to appear. One was aimed at a scornful review of the mania for stage plays, and the other, An Alarum Against Usurers, was a warning to the young and rich against the moneylenders of London.

This second piece appeared in 1584, the same year that Lodge signed on with Captain Clarke for a freebooting expedition to the Azores and the Canaries. According to Philip Gosse in The Pirate’s Who’s Who, Lodge was neither seaman nor buccaneer and spent most of his time below decks writing. In a letter quoted by Gosse, Lodge writes of this adventure:

Having with Captain Clarke made a voyage to the Islands of Terceras and the Canaries, to beguile the time with labour, I writ this book, rough, as hatched in the storms of the ocean, and feathered in the surges of perilous seas.

Lodge returned to England in 1590, apparently a little richer but one must imagine not by much as he signed on for another piratical expedition in August of 1591, this time with Sir Thomas Cavendish aboard the galleon Desire. Lodge’s book writ rough would have to wait.

Cavendish took Desire to Brazil where he and his men raided small seaside towns. Their most remarkable escapade occurred at the town of Santa, where they raided the locals’ homes while they were all at Mass. It seems that the town either suited the Desires or their ship needed looking after as, again according to Gosse, they stayed from December 15 to January 22, 1592. While there, Lodge took up residence in the local Jesuit College and “spent his time amongst the books in the library of the Fathers.”

Desire would have a perilous journey home and with little to show for it. The skeleton crew of sixteen men who finally put in to port in Ireland on June 11, 1593 were all in poor shape and none the wealthier for their adventures.

The cruise with Cavendish would be the last of Thomas Lodge’s attempts at making money through piracy. He published A Maragarite of America, about the star-crossed love affair of a Peruvian prince and a daughter of Acadia, in 1596 and though it is well remembered today the book did poorly at the time. Perhaps crestfallen, Lodge set out for France.

At Avignon the former sea dog converted to Catholicism, studied medicine and graduated from the University of Avignon in 1598. The rest of his life would be dedicated to healing. He returned to London but was forced to flee following the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Returning to England in 1612, he hung out his shingle in London once again. Thomas Lodge met his end in 1625. Tradition tells us that he died of plague contracted while ministering to London’s poor. A noble end for a poet turned, however briefly, buccaneer.

Header: Sketch of an Elizabethan nobleman via inacentaur


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! He certainly seems to have lived a varied and interesting life, Pauline.

I wonder if Lodge was also part of the inspiration for Errol Flynn's Peter Blood character in "Captain Blood"?

Pauline said...

It's hard to say on the "Captain Blood" issue; a lot of speculation around just who inspired that character.