Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gosson, Stephen

GOSSON, STEPHEN (1554–1624), author, ‘a Kentish man,’ was admitted scholar of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 4 April 1572 (Oxford Univ. Reg., Oxford Hist. Soc. ii. iii. 62). He graduated B.A. at the end of 1576. He complains in his ‘Playes Confuted’ that he ‘was pulled from the university before he was ripe, and withered in the country for want of sap.’ He soon, however, made his way to London, where, according to Wood, ‘he was noted for his admirable penning of pastorals.’ Francis Meres, in his ‘Palladis Tamia’ of 1598, ranks Gosson along with Sidney, Chaloner, Spenser, Fraunce, and Barnfield as ‘the best for pastorall’ of his day, but such little verse of Gosson as survives fails to justify the distinction. The theatre attracted him, and, according to his enemy Lodge, he became a player (Lodge, Defence of Plays, [1580], ed. 1853, p. 7). He also wrote comedies and tragedies for the London stage, but none of his plays were printed or are now extant. In his ‘Catilines Conspiracies,’ which he describes as ‘a pig of mine own sow,’ he aimed (he says) at showing ‘the reward of traitors in Catiline, and the necessary government of learned men in the person of Cicero’ (School of Abuse, ed. Arber, p. 40). His ‘Comedie of Captaine Mario’ was ‘a cast of Italian devices,’ and ‘Praise at Parting’ ‘a moral’ (Playes Confuted. Address to the Universities). About 1579 his views of the stage underwent a complete change. He perceived, he wrote, ‘such a Gordians knot of disorder in every playhouse … that I thought it better with Alexander to draw ye sword that should knappe it a sunder at one stroke.’ Thus moved, he wrote his ‘Schoole of Abuse,’ an extravagant and prudish attack on poets and players, interspersed with classical quotations, and written in euphuistic style. The dedication was addressed to Philip Sidney, and the book was entered in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ 22 July 1579. On its publication Gosson withdrew to the country, where he ‘continued with a very worshipfull gentleman, and reade to his sonnes in his own house’ (Playes Confuted. To the Reader). But he was quickly involved in a bitter controversy. He was first attacked in October 1579 in ‘Strange Newes out of Affrik.’ All that is now known of this work is to be found in Gosson's reply, entitled ‘The Ephemerides of Phialo … And a Short Apologie of the Schoole of Abuse,’ entered in the ‘Stationers' Register,’ 7 Nov. 1579. Gosson found his most powerful foe in Thomas Lodge, whose ‘Defence of Playes’ seems to have first appeared in 1580. The players likewise revenged themselves by reviving two of Gosson's plays, ‘Captaine Mario’ and ‘Praise at Parting,’ and produced a morality-play, ‘The Play of Playes,’ in which some attempt was made to defend the stage and hold up its ill-wishers to contempt (cf. Collier, Dramatic Poetry, ii. 197–8). In 1582 Gosson replied to this dramatic argument, as well as to Lodge's cavils, in ‘Playes Confuted in Fiue Actions,’ dedicated to Sir Francis Walsingham. Lodge, in the preface to his ‘Alarum against Vsurers’ (1584), briefly rejoined, and the controversy practically closed. ‘I heare … of one,’ Spenser had written to Gabriel Harvey, 16 Oct. 1579, ‘that writing a certaine Booke called “The Schoole of Abuse,” and dedicating it to Maister Sidney, was for hys labor scorned’ (Three Letters, 1580). Sidney's scorn did not deter Gosson from paying him a like compliment in his ‘Ephemerides,’ and Sidney seems to have been goaded by these unwelcome attentions into writing his own ‘Apologie for Poetrie’ (not published till 1595).

Before 1584 Gosson had entirely abandoned his old life, and had entered the church. On 28 Feb. 1584–5 he was appointed lecturer in the parish church of Stepney at a salary of 30l. (extract from register kindly supplied by G. W. Hill, esq.). On 6 Dec. 1591 he was made by the queen rector of Great Wigborough, Essex. On 7 May 1598 he preached for a second time at St. Paul's Cross, and his sermon, entitled ‘The Trumpet of Warre,’ was afterwards published. On 18 April 1600 he exchanged his living of Great Wigborough for the rectory of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate. He died at St. Botolph's rectory house 13 Feb. 1623–4, and was buried in the church ‘in the nighte’ four days later. There are several letters extant at Dulwich from Gosson to Edward Alleyn the actor (dating from 1616 to 1621) in which Gosson recommends some parishioners of St. Botolph's to a share in the relief afforded by Alleyn's charities (Warner, Cat. of MSS. at Dulwich, 102, 107, 111; Alleyn Papers, ed. Collier for Shakesp. Soc., 133, 135). There is nothing to show that Gosson was renewing in this correspondence an acquaintance with an early associate on the stage. Gamage, in his collection of epigrams called ‘Linsie Wolsie,’ 1613, p. 302, writes of Gosson:—

Is it not strange in this our vain age
To see one clime to pulpit from the stage?

Gosson's extant works are: 1. ‘The Schoole of Abuse, conteining a pleasunt inuectiue against Poets, Pipers, Plaiers, Iesters, and such like Caterpillers of a Commonwelth,’ London, for Thomas Woodcocke, 1579, 12mo; 2nd edit., London, 1587. Reprinted in ‘Somers Tracts’ (1810), iii. 552–74; by Shakespeare Soc. 1841, with Heywood's ‘Apology for Actors,’ ed. J. P. Collier; and by Professor Arber in 1868. 2. ‘The Ephemerides of Phialo diuided into three Bookes … And a short Apologie for the Schoole of Abuse,’ London, by Thomas Dawson, 1579, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1586; the latter section reprinted by Professor Arber with No. 1. 3. ‘Playes Confuted in Fiue Actions, proving they are not to be suffred in a Christian common weale by the way both the cavils of Thomas Lodge and the “Play of Playes” written in their defence and other objections of Players frendes are truely set downe and directlye aunsweared,’ London, for Thomas Gosson, n.d., containing interesting notes on the contemporary stage. Two copies, both imperfect, are in the Bodleian Library; none is in the British Museum. 4. ‘Pleasant Quippes for Vpstart Newfangled Gentlewomen,’ London, by Richard Jones, 1595 (2nd edit. 1596), a coarse satiric poem, issued anonymously, and rich in allusions to Elizabethan women's mode of dress and the like. J. P. Collier assigned this piece to Gosson on finding a copy of the second edition inscribed ‘Authore Stephen Gosson,’ and assumed that it was identical with pieces licensed by the Stationers' Company on 28 Dec. 1594 (to Thomas Millington) and 17 Jan. 1594–5 (to Richard Jones), entitled respectively ‘An excellent newe ballad, declaringe the monstrous abuce in apparell, etc.,’ and ‘A glasse for vayneglorious women.’ The satire was castrated, reprinted, and finally suppressed by the Percy Society in 1841. Mr. Collier promised a reprint in 1863 (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iii. 3, 64). 5. ‘The Trumpet of Warre. A Sermon preached at Paules Cross’ [7 May 1598], London, n.d.; a justification of war with Spain. ‘A little booke intitled A shorte and profitable treatise of lawfull and unlawfull recreations’ was licensed by the Stationers' Company to Thomas Gosson (see below) 15 Jan. 1591–2. The work is not now known, but there is every likelihood that it was from Stephen Gosson's pen (ib. 3rd ser. i. 201). Gosson also contributed some English verses to the ‘Mirror of Mans Lyfe,’ a translation by H. Kerton (London, 1576), and, together with Latin elegiacs, to ‘The Pleasant Historie of the Conquest of Weast India, now called New Spayn,’ a translation by Thomas Nicholas (London, 1578). To Florio's ‘First Frutes’ (1578) Gosson prefixed a commendatory poem.

Thomas Gosson (fl. 1598), the publisher of ‘Playes Confuted,’ was probably a brother of the author. He was made free of the Stationers' Company by his master, Thomas Purfoote, 4 Feb. 1576–7 (Arber, Transcript, ii. 673), and his earliest publication, ‘A Ballad concerninge the Murder of the late Kinge of Scottes,’ was entered on the Stationers' Register 24 March 1578–9 (ib. ii. 349). His shop was in Paternoster Row. He was publishing ‘true reportes’ and religious tracts until 1598 (Ames, Typogr. Antiq. iii. 1338–9). His son Henry succeeded to his business, being admitted a freeman of the Stationers' Company per patrimonium 3 Aug. 1601 (Arber, ii. 730). Henry's earliest publication entered on the Stationers' Registers was ‘A Recantacon of a Browniste,’ 1 July 1606. From that date till 1630 he was busily employed in producing broadsides. He had early in James I's reign a shop on London Bridge (cf. Lemon, Cat. of Broadsides belonging to Soc. of Antiq.) A William Gosson was Queen Elizabeth's drum-player in 1599 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1598–1601, p. 346), and as drum-major in August 1620 was ordered to impress twenty-eight drummers and fifers to serve in the ships sent against Algerine pirates (ib. 1619–23, p. 172). A Richard Gosson was in April 1614 a merchant of the East India Company (ib. 1611–16, p. 229).

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 675; Collier's Preface to School of Abuse (Shakespeare Soc.); Arber's Reprint, 1868; Collier's Bibliographical Cat.; Collier's Hist. of Engl. Dramatic Poetry.]

S. L. L.