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Bales, Peter (DNB00)


BALES, PETER (1547–?1610), caligraphist, whose name appears also as Balesius, speaks of himself in the year 1595 (Harl. MS. 675, fol. 20) as being 'within two yeares of fiftie,' which gives the date of his birth as 1547. Holinshed also (iii. 1262) speaks of Bales as 'an Englishman borne in the citie of London,' but beyond this nothing whatever is known of his parentage. Of his education it is recorded that he spent several years in Oxford at Gloucester Hall (Wood, Athen. Ox. i. 655, ed. 1813), where his microscopic penmanship, his writing from speaking (shorthand), and dexterous copying, attracted great attention, and where his conduct secured for him the respect of many men at his own hall and at St. John's ; but there is no evidence whether he was at the university as a scholar or as a professor of his art, for which Englishmen in his day (Bayle, art. Quinctilian) enjoyed especial repute. In 1575 it is certain he had risen to great eminence. His skill enabled him (D'Israeli, Curiosities of Literature, p. 100) to astonish 'the eyes of beholders by showing them what they could not see' when they were shown it, for example, the Bible written to go into the compass of a walnut (Harl. MS. 590, art. 2, f. 14); and this brought him so much fame that he, on 17 Aug. 1575, presented Elizabeth, then at Hampton Court, with a specimen of his work mounted under crystal or glass as a ring (together with 'an excellent spectacle by him devised' to allow the queen to read what he had written); and Elizabeth wore this ring many times upon her finger (Holinshed, iii. 1262), calling upon the lords of the council and the ambassadors to admire it. Bales resided in the upper end of the Old Bailie, near the sign of the Dolphin; he advertised himself as a writing schoolmaster 'that teacheth to write all manner of handes, after a more speedie way than hath heretofore been taught;' he promised his pupils that 'you may also learne to write as fast as a man speaketh, by the arte of Brachigraphie by him devised, writing but one letter for a word;' and that 'you may have anything faire written in any kind of hand usuall, and bookes of copies faire as you shall bespeake.' Many of the citizens and their children became his scholars. He was emploved also in transcribing public documents into book form, one of these (Harl. MS. 2368), as even as type, being a beautiful specimen of his dexterity; and Walsingham and Hatton called him into use for other government purposes, such as deciphering and copying secret correspondence, and imitating the handwriting of intercepted letters, in order to add matter to them, which might bring replies to serve state ends. His services were turned to account in the discovery of Babington's plot in 1586 (Camden's Annals, anno 1586). Bales therefore hoped for appointment to some permanent post; but his hope was not realised, and a Mr. Peter Ferriman, his friend, wrote to Sir Thomas Randolph in 1589, urging his claims on the government (MS. Collection of N. Boothe, Esq., late of Gray's Inn). In 1590 Bales published 'The Writing Schoolemaster,' for teaching 'swift writing, true writing, faire writing,' which was to be bought at his own house; and he dedicated the little volume to Sir Christopher Hatton, his 'singular good lord and master.' His patron Walsingham dying in 1590, and Hatton dying in the next year, 1591, Bales petitioned Burghley for 'preferment to the office of armes, either for the roome of York Herald or for the Pursuivantes place' (Lansdowne MSS. vol. xcix. art. 59). There is no evidence that this was given to him ; but in 1592 he obtained the support of Sir John Pickering, then lord keeper of the great seal. In 1594 Jodocus Hondius, caligraphist and engraver, visited England to collect specimens or copybook slips from the most celebrated masters of the pen in Europe, and engaged Bales to produce slips for him which were duly engraved and published. In 1595 occured the trial of skill between Bales and a rival penman, Daniel Johnson, his neighbour, living in 'Paules Churchyarde, near the Bishops Palace.' He who wrote best, and whose chosen scholar wrote best, was to receive a golden pen of the value of 20l. The contest, being postponed from St. Bartholomew's day (24 Aug.), commenced on Monday, Michaelmas day, between seven and eight in the morning, at 'the Black Fryers, within the Conduit Yard, next to the Pipe Office,' before five judges and a concourse of about a hundred people. It ended in Bales's triumph; he had the pen 'brought to his house by foure of the judges and delivered unto him absolutelie as his owne;' and though Johnson disputed his victory, printing an appeal, which he pasted on posts all over the city, declaring that Bales had only obtained possession of the prize by asking permission to show it to his wife who was ill, and by declaring 'a fardle of untruths,' Bales demolished his objections, clause by clause, in 'The Originall Cause' (Harl. MS. 675 supra), written 1 Jan. 1596-7. Thenceforth he used a golden pen as a sign, and remained master of the field. In 1597 appeared a second edition of 'The Writing Schoolemaster,' with a longer list of Oxford friends setting forth Bales's talents in commendatory verses, English and Latin. In 1598, office not being yet found for him, 'Mr. Wyseman solycyted the Earle of Essex to have a clarke's place in the courte for hym; as I take yt, to be clarke to her majestie, of her highness bills to be signed' (Sufferings of John Danyell, MS.: from the Fleet, 1602). In 1599 John Danyell, having found some of the Earl of Essex's letters to the countess, employed Bales to copy them, assuring him it was at the countess's desire. Bales suspected the truth of this, and asked 'Why doe you cause mee to wryte one letter soe often, and so lyke a hand you cannot reade?' He threatened, too, if he found anything treasonable, to lay an information against Danyell, and Danyell refusing to lend him and his friend Ferriman 20l., a declaration of the whole was made by them to the countess, and delivered to her, 2 April 1600. In 1601, on 8 Feb., the earl himself was arraigned; Bales met Danyell on the way to Westminster Hall to be present at the trial, and informed him of this declaration; in 1602, Danyell being tried in the Star Chamber on a charge of causing these letters to be forged, Bales gave evidence there against him.

It is not known when and where Bales died. Davies in his 'Scourge of Folly,' p. 134, nicknames him Clophonian, alludes to the sign at his house of a hand and golden pen, and speaks of him as going from place to place for the last half-year, from which it is known that be was alive in 1610, the date of the poem, and it is conjectured that he was poor and in disgrace. But no other mention of him has been found, and it is not known whether the Peter Bales, M.A., prebend at St. Mary Woolnoth, 1643, and publishing one or two sermons, was of his family or not.

A petition to be taken into 'honourable service' is still extant in his hand (Lansdowne MSS. vol. cxix. art. 102). In this Bales styles himself 'cypherary.' From a petition presented to the House of Lords (20 Jan. 1640-1) by his son John Bales, we learn that Peter Bales was at one time tutor to Prince Henry.

A copy of 'The Writing Schoolemaster' is at the Bodleian, and another at Lambeth Palace. There is not one at the British Museum. In the text, Bales lays down such rules as 'For comforting of the sight, it is verie good to cover the desks with greene' (cap. iv.), and it 'is good at first, for more assurance in good writing, to write betweene two lines' (cap. vii.).

[Biog Brit.; Evelyn's Numismata, fol. 1??7; Danyell's Dysasters. 4to, MS. (see Biog Brit. p. 546 note); Hone's Every Day Book, i. 1066.]

J. H.