Sir William Cornwallis


By Sir William Corne-Waleys the younger, Knight


Essay 22:  Of Alehouses.

I write this in an alehouse, into which I am driven by night which would not give me leave to find an honester harbour. I am without any company but ink and paper and them I use instead of talking to myself. My host hath already given me his knowledge but I am little bettered. I am now trying whether myself be better in his discretion.

The first to note here is how honestly every place speaks and how ill every man lives. Not a post, not a painted cloth in the house but cries out Fear God, and yet the parson of the town scarce keeps this instruction. It is a strange thing how men belie themselves - everyone speaks well and means naughtily. They cry out if man with man breaks his word, and yet nobody keeps his promise with virtue. But why should these inferiors be blamed since the noblest professions are become base? Their instructions rest in the examples of higher fortunes, and they are blind and lead men into sensuality. Methinks a drunken cobbler and a mere hawking gentleman rank equally, both end their pursuits with pleasing their senses - this the eye, the other the taste.

What differs scraping misery from a false cheater? the director of both is covetousness and the end game. Lastly, courting of a mistress and buying of a whore are somewhat like - the end is luxury. Perhaps the one speaks more finely but they both mean plainly. I have been thus seeking differences, and to distinguish of places I am fain to fly to the sign of an alehouse and to the stately coming in of greater houses. For men, titles and clothes, not their lives and actions, help me. So were they all naked and banished from the Heralds' books. they are without any evidence of pre-eminence, and their souls cannot defend them from community.


[Spelling and punctuation modernized]

Sir William Cornwallis was the son of Sir Charles Cornwallis, who was committed to the Tower in 1614 for insensitive comments about the Scots. Sir William's Essays were intentionally paradoxical, terse and obscure, designed to impress an educated audience - in contrast with Henry Smith's homely sermons that were consciously aimed at the ordinary commoner. Observe nonetheless, that both strike a strongly egalitarian note - gentlemen are just as bad or worse than husbandmen in matters of vice and virtue.

Luxury - in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, luxury was more often used to mean lecherousness or lasciviousness than self-indulgence.

Heralds' books = the records kept by the College at Arms of armigerous families.