The only surviving portrait of John Florio shows a dark, brilliant, lively face. The second has been lost or perhaps regarded as representing someone else.
PORTRAIT AND PERSONALITY
- JOHN FLORIO’S PORTRAIT BY WILLIAM HOLE
- JOHN FLORIO’S PERSONALITY
- JOHN FLORIO BY HIS CONTEMPORARIES: HIS FRIENDS
- JOHN FLORIO BY HIS CONTEMPORARIES: HIS ENEMIES
- JOHN ELIOT
- ROBERT GREENE
- THOMAS NASHE
- HUGH SANFORD
JOHN FLORIO’S PORTRAIT BY WILLIAM HOLE
A portrait of John Florio is printed in his second and increased edition of his Italian-English vocabulary Queen’s Anna New World of Words. It’s an engraving made by William Hole that appears on the first pages of the dictionary. Here we see Florio at the mature age of 58 years old wearing a livery as groom of the privy chamber, a black gown of damaske or satten garded with velvet and furred with budge. Two dozine of silke buttons and four chains of office across his breast complete the picture. On the right of the portrait of John Florio there is the Giordano Bruno’s motto “Chi si contenta gode” (“Who lives content hath all the world at will”), an oxymoron if compared with the Herculean project he had just completed. Immediately above is another symbol of Bruno’s philosophy: the sun with rays which was the usual seal of John Florio’s arms.
The portrait of John Florio by William Hole shows a dark, brilliant, lively face. A nearly pointed beard, mobile mouth, swarthy skin, horizontal nervous furrows across the brow, and wide-open eyes. The expression is alert, intelligent, and guarded, and “power which comes of intelligence and energy underlies it.” 1
You can look at the portrait of John Florio made by William Hole in high definition thanks to LUNA. Click the cursor on the bottom right to zoom in.
JOHN FLORIO’S LOST PORTRAIT BY MYTENS
There was another portrait of John Florio, supposed to be painted by Daniel Mytens, in the possession of the Dorset family. No such portrait is today mentioned in the list of their paintings. Yet that the Sackvilles had once a portrait of Florio appears from the Common-place book of Charles Sackville, 6th earl of Dorset, now among the Harleian Manuscripts (N. 4636):
“This thought Michens Painter to King James, drew the picture of Florio which we have.”
While in his article on John Florio in the Dictionary of National Biography the late Sir Sidney Lee remarked that:
“There is said to be a portrait of John Florio by Mytens at Knole Park.”
The portrait of John Florio is not there now. It has been lost, or perhaps regarded as representing someone else.
JOHN FLORIO’S PORTRAIT BY BRUCE ROGERS
A more recent portrait of John Florio was made in an elegantly printed edition of Montaigne‘s Essays by Bruce Rogers. It’s dated 1903, Boston.
JOHN FLORIO’S PERSONALITY
The personality of John Florio has been distorted through the centuries by different historians and critics who overstressed his puritanism, mainly because of the (only partially) moralistic tone found in his first composition, First Fruites (1578). The reason of some moralistic tones presented in the work has been fully explained. 2 However, they have been amplified, consequently giving an unreal and misleading picture of the man. John Florio’s conception of a liberal life and education, in fact, is in many respects analogous to that of the great Italian humanists of the Renaissance. One of these, his educator Pier Paolo Vergerio, who held the view of a man as harmony between body and soul, understood however, very different from that of the Puritans. Ultimately, the passages in First Fruits chosen by John Florio to illustrate such principles are humanistic in tone and derived from classical authors, especially Plutarch. Moreover, all this is implicit rather than stated in the earlier work. Not only Second Fruits clearly shows a change of temper in which the earlier moralising tone is abandoned, but Florio got in contact with the most interesting and rebellious minds of the 16th century. One of them, Giordano Bruno. It’s really hard to imagine that the Nolan philosopher, with his deeply rebellious spirit and hate towards the pedants, as his works clearly show, would become so friendly and close to John Florio, if he was one of them. Furthemore, we need only glance at his contemporary reputation in order to judge in what high esteem he was held. He was loved and esteemed by the most important and brilliant figures of his time: Giordano Bruno, Ben Jonson, Henry Wriothesley, Francis Walsingham, Robert Dudley, Lord Burghley, Philip Sidney, Spencer, just to name a few. All of this doesn’t fit with the distorted description some historians have done of John Florio through the centuries. The description that his contemporaries made of him, in fact, is something not only interesting, but revealing of a man with a unique mind and character.
REALITY: FLORIO, THE RESOLUTE
Frances Yates, Florio’s biographer, described John Florio as a writer who always seeked to produce a shock of delighted surprise to express “that odd, slightly comic, strongly marked personality of his“. She also explained that the reason of the charm of his translations is due to their quaintness, “and the reason for this is that the translator was a quaint person.” Arundel Del Re described him as an Italian-English “Don Quixote”, who chose Resolute as his self-imposed academic name, for resolution and determination are salient features of the man. John Florio indeed possessed a strong and consistent character none too common among his contemporaries, as well as a touch of that self-confidence and belief in his own superior judgement, possibly inherited by his father Michelangelo. Such traits much certainly have played a considerably part in strengthening the bond of friendship that sprang up with Giordano Bruno and himself in those agitated by happily two and half years together at the French Embassy. As a man ad as writer, John Florio was often pompous, self-opinionated and fully conscious of his own worth. His love of books and his deep-rooted belief in the noble function of literature were passionately sincere, honest and entirely free from ulterior motives. As humanist, he shared the Italian humanists’ combativeness. Such an attitude was not likely to be appreciated by the intensely nationalistic Elizabethans of the generation after Sidney who disliked Italianate Englishmen on patriotic and religious grounds and, unjustifiably, classed Florio amongst them. It was not unnatural that, under these circumstances, he should be on the defensive. He was vehement in his likes and dislikes, which often led to disputes and quarrels, and his restlessness was characteristics of the Italian humanists. Moreover, the man had a physical and mental vigor that enabled him to complete arduous labours. He was, in all respects, one of the most learned and prodigious scholars of the Renaissance, and should be recognized as the representative humanist of the Elizabethan age.
JOHN FLORIO BY HIS CONTEMPORARIES: HIS FRIENDS
John Donne described John Florio as vain and eccentric. In the Courtier’s Library, Donne points out Florio’s extreme refinement in speaking, which led him to use terms which he liked but were often rare and complicated. John Donne also reports that John Florio had something comical at times, a very particular and accentuated personality trait that tended towards an excessive eccentricity, especially linguistic. In this context, John Donne parodies Florio in a sprawling imagined title (here translated from the Latin):
“The Ocean of Court, or, The Pyramid, or the Colossus, or the Bottomless Pit of Wits: in which … anything that can be propounded is propounded on the subject of tooth-picks and nail-pairings; Collected and reduced into a corpus and dedicated to their individual writers by John Florio … poems in praise of the Author in Books I-XCVII, which follow.”
Underlying the pomposity of Florio’s style, nearly the whole book is consumed with the authorial trade of dedication and congratulation, in which favor and sentiment run rampant. John Donne was among Florio’s contemporaries who perceived something comical in his quaint and snobbish attitude. Donne’s intimacy with the Countess of Bedford, would have given him opportunities of observing the eccentries of the “Anglo-Italian”. 3
VAUGHAN: JOHN FLORIO, DECANTER OF SALACIOUS SONNETS
William Vaughan, in his The Golden Fleece, informs us that John Florio was able to use salacious and filthy language. The episode in which Florio is portrayed by Vaughan, as a decanter of scurrilous and vulgar verses, refers to a royal birthday. But at the time of this event (occurring after 1603), John Florio could afford a similar behaviour, being a celebrity and in a position of power at court.
VAUGHAN: JOHN FLORIO IN ROBERT GREENE’S MENAPHON
William Vaughan, in another book, Spirit of Detraction, portrayed Florio as an ingenuous scholler, defending him against the accusations of Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene. Thomas Nashe, in fact, in Robert Greene’s Menaphon (1589) makes accusations against an alleged idiot art master that “Repose eternity in the mouth of an actor”. But this “idiot”, for Thomas Nashe, doesn’t really write what he “repose” in the mouth of an actor, because he takes everything from other writers. Nashe also adds: ”Nihil dictum quod non dictus prius”, which means “Nothing is said that has not been said before”.
“[..] Indeed, I must needs say the descending years from the philosophers’ Athens have not been supplied with such present orators as were able in any English vein to be eloquent of their own, but either they must borrow invention of Ariosto & his countrymen, take up choice of words by exchange in Tully’s Tusculans & the Latin historiographers’ storehouses (similitudes, nay, whole sheets & tractates verbatim from the plenty of Plutarch and Pliny), and, to conclude, their whole method of writing from the liberty of comical fictions that have succeeded to our rhetoricians by a second imitation, so that well may the adage Nil dictum quod non dictum prius [=There can be nothing said that has not been said before] be the most judicial estimate of our latter writers. [..]”Thomas Nashe, Menaphon, 1589
John Florio, unlike what is thought, it is the idiot attacked by Thomas Nashe in the Menaphon. Some friends of Florio defended him from Nashe’s attack. Sir William Vaughan, in fact, took the parts of Florio. And in doing so, he demonstrates that Florio and Nashe’s “idiot art master” are the same person. In his Spirit of Detraction, (1611) 4 Vaughan defends an “ingenuous scholler” who was attacked because he didn’t write his own stuff but copied from others (as Nashe said in the Menaphon about the idiot art master). Vaughan writes that John Florio was accused of being a “barrel emptiness” that did nothing but ”say what had already been said”:
“No hurt by silence comes: but speech brings hurt: These muttering Momes paint out, that he is a meacocke, a melancholicke Mummer, or a simple sot. Let an ingenuous scholler salted with experience, seasoned with Christian doctrine, hauing his heart feared and sealed with zeale and charity, let him but broach forth the barrell of his wit, which God hath giuen him; they crie out that his braine is but an empty barrell, his wit but barren, his matter borrowed out of other mens bookes. At which last imputation, though I confesse this auncient saying makes for them: nihil dictum, quod non est dictum prius: that nothing can be spoken, but what is spoken of before;”Vaughan, William, Spirit of Detraction, p. 110
Vaughan makes it clear that he’s referring to Nashe’s accusation in Greene’s Menaphon when he quotes Nashe’s words: “Nihil dictum quod non dictus prius”. In this way, he made it clear that he was referring to Thomas Nashe and what he had written about the “idiot art master”.
YATES: JOHN FLORIO, THE INGENUOUS SCHOLLER
Frances Yates, in her book Love’s Labour’s Lost, confirms that William Vaughan in his Spirit of Detraction refers to John Florio when he uses the term “ingenuous scholler”. She also points out that Vaughan used these words to describe John Florio because he himself sometimes called his friend Florio an “Ingenuous scholler”‘. In conclusion, the “Ingenuous scholler” quoted by William Vaughan in his Spirit of Detraction and the idiot art master quoted by Thomas Nashe in Greene’s Menaphon are the same person: John Florio.
GABRIEL HARVEY’S DEFENSE OF JOHN FLORIO AGAINST ROBERT GREENE
William Vaughan defended John Florio from the attacks of Thomas Nashe made in Greene’s Menaphon. However, Vaughan was not the only one who defended Florio from the attacks of his enemies. John Florio, as explained in several pages of this website, had been attacked several times in his career. This was mostly due to his foreign origins. The intense dislike for foreigners was a real danger during the Elizabethan period. In Second Fruits, in fact, John Florio mentioned how his enemies had a “knife at command to cut my throat” because “Un Inglese Italianato é un Diavolo Incarnato” (“The Italianate Englishman is a devil incarnate.”). Moreover, Florio was, among all the foreigners, the most prominent and famous writer. He obtained a secure income, was appreciated and praised by the best patrons, and held a prestigious position at court. Gabriel Harvey, a friend of John Florio who praised him several times and had a copy of his Firste Fruites, explictly defended John Florio defining him with Italianate bravery from the attacks of Thomas Nashe, Robert Greene and his enemies:
“Greene, vile Greene, would thou wearest halfe so honest as the worst of the foure whom thou upraidest, or halfe so learned as the unlearnedst of the three! Thanke others for thy borrowed and filched plumes of some Italianated bravery, and what remaineth but flat impudence and grosse detraction; the proper ornaments of thy sweet utterance.”
In his Essays, 1600, Sir William Cornwallis the Younger was the first person in England to call attention to the merits of Montaigne. Florio’s pupil, Cornwallis also described the translator, John Florio:
“Montaigne now speaks good English. It is done by a fellow less beholding to nature for his fortunes than his wit, yet lesser for his face than his fortune. The truth is he looks more like a good fellow than a wise man, and yet he is wise beyond either his fortune or education.”
By the portrait made of John Florio by William Hole nothing is perceived which can be supposed to justify the remark of Cornwallis. Probably the negative remark on Florio’s face can be due to his darker skin or the Mediterranean facial features which weren’t perceived, in the Elizabethan period, as standards of beauty.
BEN JONSON: JOHN FLORIO, THE AYDE OF HIS MUSES
Samuel Daniel, Florio’s long-time friend, referred to John Florio as his “brother”. Ben Jonson said that he was appreciated in the most exclusive environments. In this context, it is important to note that Ben Jonson was really proud to boast that, differently from his usual much longer time in preparing his works, his Volpone (1607) was prepared only in five weeks. It is the case to consider that one of his precious collaborator, in preparing this famous Jonson’s comedy, was John Florio. It is also meaningful that Ben Jonson in his dedication in a copy of Volpone to John Florio wrote:
“To his loving Father and worthy Friend Master John Florio. The Ayde of his Muses. Ben Jonson seales this testimony of Friendship and Love.”
This is a very important testimony on behalf of John Florio as a shadow-writer or, at least, as a collaborator. Ben Jonson’s dedication has never been fully appreciated and Florio’s role has only been partially evaluated, and only as the mere provider of informations about Italian folklore. Florio’s works, his two encyclopedias as well as his work of art, Montaigne’s Essays, are the proof that he was much more capable of being the simple teacher as some historians have tried to pen over the centuries, sometimes not only diminishing his works, but also relegating him to obscurity.
With that dedication, Ben Jonson showed that he could speed up the composition of his Volpone and conclude it in five weeks also because he had John Florio on his side as his precious collaborator. If John Florio has been the “ayde” of Jonson’s muse he can well have been the ayde of many other muses. This important aspect of Florio’s literary career, which has always been studded with precious collaborations, has not yet been fully detected not even investigated.
JOHN FLORIO BY HIS CONTEMPORARIES: HIS ENEMIES
John Eliot violently attacked John Florio in his Ortho-epia Gallica (1593). For Frances Yates, this publication shaked the modern-teaching world to its depths. John Florio was obviously the main victim of John Eliot’s satire, being the most famous and important of the language teachers. This storm was mostly due to the fear that foreign Protestants refugees would take the bread out of English mouths in many skilled trades and professions:
“Feeling against foreigners ran high in the year 1593 and the authorithies were expecting to have to deal with anti-foreign riots and an “ill-May day” [..] Florio’s Second Fruits, with its revival of memories connected with Bruno’s rudeness in the Cena de le Ceneri was not calculated to array any growing feelings of aggravation against foreign teachers and it is not surprising to find the bulk of Eliot’s satire is directed at Florio.”Yates, F. A., John Florio, The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, p. 147
Florio answered to John Eliot’s critics in his 1598 A Worlde of Words recalling that attack as an “old danger”:
“But before I recount unto thee (genth reader) the purpose of my new voyage: give me leave a little to please myself, and refresh thee With the discourse of my old danger. Which beacuse in some respect it is common danger, the discoverie therof may happily profit other men, as much please my selfe. And here might I begin with those notable Pirates in this paper-sea, those sea-dog, or lande-critikes, monsters of men, if not beasts rather then man; Whose teeth are Canibals, their toongs adder-forkes, their lips aspes-poyson, their eyes basiliskes, their breath the breath of a grave…”
JOHN ELIOT: FLORIO, THE SOCIAL CLIMBER
Lande-critic: the reference made by John Florio is to John Eliot’s Ortho-epia Gallica and his work as a critic and journalist. Florio was seen by Eliot as a “usurper”, a dangerous social climber, as the foreigners obviously imposed themselves with more success than the English in the teaching of foreign languages. At that time, there was a heated controversy against foreign teachers in England, teachers of which Florio was the emblem, and all the collateral activities of Florio aroused anger and envy: Eliot’s attack on Ortho-epia Gallica against him is an example. Florio’s enemies, in fact, did not tolerate that a foreigner could have a success that, for them, instead it had to be reserved only for the English. This open hostility of many towards John Florio as a foreigner, could justify Florio’s cautious attitude in publishing works that would have given him a negative publicity. It also explains why later in his life, despite after having a prestigious position at court, he published anonymously Boccaccio’s Decameron. His caution in literary activities at court as mentioned by Vaughan, and the different ways he signed himself throughout his career (some examples: N.W. in Daniel’s book, J.H. in John Haley’s translation, I.F. in his 1591 translation of Perpetuall and naturall prognostications of the change of weather, etc…;) are the proof that the attacks of his enemies, Eliot, Nashe, Greene, had consequences on his literary activities. However, his resolute attitude, defined by Gabriel Harvey Italianate bravery, didn’t stop him from writing and publishing his works despite the many difficulties and dangers encoutered throughout his career.
By John Florio’s contemporaries and mostly by Florio’s Epistles to the reader we understand that he had been attacked by Robert Greene, too. In Phaeton to his friend Florio, one of the earliest Elizabethan sonnets, published in Second Fruits in 1591, there is a reference to Robert Greene:
Sweet friend, whose name agrees with thy increase
How fit a rival art thou of the spring!
For when each branch hath left his flourishing,
And green-locked summer’s shady pleasures cease,
She makes the winter’s storms repose in peace
And spends her franchise on each living thing:
The daisies spout, the little birds do sing,
Herbs, gums, and plants do vaunt of their release.
So when that all our English wits lay dead
(Except the laurel that is evergreen)
Thou with thy fruits our barrenness o’erspread
And set thy flowery pleasance to be seen.
Such fruits, such flowerets of morality
Were ne’er before brought out of Italy.
Woodcut showing Robert Greene. The image is of the dead Greene, and comes from a pamphlet published in 1598, “Greene in Conceipt”, by John Dickenson. It shows the late author in his shroud.
Furthermore, Florio, in his Second Fruits, makes reference to a “mole-hill” (pile of insignificant stuff) who published his “mourning garments”, which, in effect, is the title of a work by Robert Greene, Mourning Garment, from 1590.
So Robert Greene, like Hugh Sanford, Thomas Nashe and Eliot, disliked Florio because:
- John Florio was not graduated.
- In 1590 John Florio edited the publication of Sidney’s Arcadia, one of the most acclaimed poets of the Elizabethan era.
- Florio violently opposed John Eliot, who was an avid defender of Robert Greene.
- Florio was a successful foreigner.
- Above all, because John Florio had called Greene’s works “mole-hill” at the very beginning of his Seconds Fruits.
In the introduction of the Second Fruits, Florio heavily attacks Robert Greene. Greene and Florio thus were not friends, not were Nashe and Florio. John Florio, in fact, writes that he does not belong to Greene and Nashe’s literary circle: “I am not of their faction”.
John Florio also writes that he has a “great faction of good writers who bandie with me” in A World of Words (1598). The great faction of good writers does not include Thomas Nashe, or John Eliot, or Robert Greene. They did not belong to the same literary circle. The “good writers who bandie with me” were, for example, Gabriel Harvey, William Vaughan, Samuel Daniel and Ben Jonson.
John Florio’s biographers Arundel Del Re and Saul Gerevini have pointed out several times that Thomas Nashe and John Florio had a literaly quarrel that can be traced in everything the two men published during their career. This hostility has never been fully appreciated and discussed. In this paragraph it is possible to read the whole story about Thomas Nashe and John Florio’s friendship which began most probably in the mid 1580s and turned sour when Florio became tutor of Henry Wriothesley.
THOMAS NASHE IN MENAPHON AND JOHN FLORIO IN SECOND FRUITS
As explained before in the paragraph about William Vaughan’s defense of John Florio in his Spirit of Detraction, and Frances Yates’s analysis of Florio as the ingenuous scholler in Love Labour’s Lost, Thomas Nashe was talking about John Florio in the Menaphon (1589). Thomas Nashe, in fact, writes that someone, who is a writer, steals from other writers (one of them being Nashe himself) and passes his pilfers to a player: “repose eternity in the mouth of a player”. This writer is John Florio. Nashe, in fact, writes that Florio is very fast in making his works, compared to the time Nashe needs in writing. Why? Obviously: this writer, this “idiot Art Master”, pilfers from other authors. These following excerpts are taken by the Nashe-Greene’s Menaphon and by Florio’s Second Fruits.
Writing to his university friends, Thomas Nashe writes about Florio’s students (one of them, Henry Wriothesley):
Thomas Nashe: “I cannot so fully bequeath them to folly as their idiot art-masters, that intrude themselves to our ears as the alchemists of eloquence, who (mounted on the stage of arrogance) think to outbrave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank verse” – Menaphon
John Florio in Second Fruits replies:
John Florio: “Some, like Alchimists distilling quintessences of wit, that melt golde to nothing, & yet would make golde of nothing.” – Second Fruits
Thomas Nashe writes:
Thomas Nashe: “Let other men (as they please) praise the mountain that in seven years bringeth forth a mouse, or the Italianate pen that, of a packet of pilferies, affords the press a pamphlet or two in an age, and then, in disguised array, vaunts Ovid’s and Plutarch’s plumes as their own.” – Menaphon
John Florio answers:
John Florio “Some with Amadysing & Martinising a multitude of our libertine yonkers with triviall, frivolous, and vaine vaine droleries, set manie mindes a gadding; could a foole with a feather make men better sport?”, – Second Fruits
Thomas Nashe: “give me the man whose extemporal vein in any humour will excel our greatest art-masters’ deliberate thoughts, whose inventions, quicker than his eye, will challenge the proudest rhetorician to the contention of like perfection with like expedition” – Menaphon
John Florio: “lf I proove more than I promise, I will impute it to the gracious Soile where my endeavours are planted, whose soveraine vertue divided with such worthless seedes, hath transformed my unregarded slips to medeinable simples” – Second Fruits
Thomas Nashe: “Was it not Maro’s twelve years’ toil that so famed his twelve Aeneidos? Or Peter Ramus’ sixteen years’ pains that so praised his petty logic?” – Menaphon
John Florio: “Is not the number of twelve wonderfull? [..] Manie sowe come, and reape thistles; bestow three yeares toyle in manuring a barraine plot, and have nothing for their labor but their traveil” – Second Fruits
Thomas Nashe: “To leave all these to the mercy of their mother tongue, that feed on naught but the crumbs that fall from the translator’s trencher, I come (sweet friend) to thy Arcadian Menaphon, whose attire (though not so stately, yet comely) doth entitle thee above all other to that temperatum dicendi genus which Tully in his Orator termeth true eloquence” – Menaphon
John Florio: “The reason why, because they leave the lowe dales, to seeke thrift in the hill countries; and dig for gold on the top of the Alpes, when Esops cock found a pearle in a lower place” – Second Fruits
JOHN FLORIO AND THOMAS NASHE’S QUARREL EXPLAINED: THE IDIOT ART MASTER
Nashe is really critical towards this ‘idiot Art Master’ (Florio was an Art Master at Magdalen College, Oxford) because Thomas Nashe prefers “the man (Robert Greene) whose extemporal vein in any humour will excel our greatest art-masters’ deliberate thoughts”, not the man (John Florio) “whose inventions, quicker than his eye, will challenge the proudest rhetorician to the contention of like perfection with like expedition”.
While Florio is really fast in producing art, since his “invention” is “quicker than his eye”, Nashe’s approach is to invest time to ponder his production. Time for Nashe is fundamental, in fact he writes:
“Was it not Maro’s twelve years’ toil that so famed his twelve Aeneidos?“.
Thus, for Thomas Nashe the time invested in producing art counts very much, that is why he appreciates “the twelve years’ toil that famed Virgilio’s Aeneidos, not the “invention” of someone which is “quicker than his eye” in writing. For Thomas Nashe, in fact, the writer’s art whose “invention is quicker than his eye” can only be plagiarism. That is why he despises the ‘Italianate pen’ (John Florio) and ‘the packet of pilferies’ that this pen produces.
John Florio got the reference made by Nashe to him and answered in his Second Fruits:
“Is not the number of twelve wonderful?“
And then he adds:
“Manie sowe come, and reape thistles; bestow three yeare’s toyle in manuring a barraine plot, and have nothing for their labor but their travail”.
John Florio replies that it is not the time (twelve weeks, months or years) but the ideas. In fact, for John Florio, the “plot” is “barren” even if you work hard for “three years” and you end up having nothing “for their labor but their travail”. This is the problem: Florio and Nashe had different conception about producing art.
Some Florio’s scholars, Arundel Del Re, Frances Yates and Saul Gerevini, have pointed out Florio’s references in Thomas Nashe, Vuaghan and Greene’s works. These allusions inevitably makes Florio the main victim of their attacks. Moreover, John Florio replied to each one of Nashe, Greene and Eliot’s attacks, which clearly shows that he was the bulk of their critics. Since Thomas Nashe wrote that John Florio, the writer, “repose eternity in the mouth of a player”, it would be interesting to understand, in this context, who was the player.
JOHN FLORIO IN THOMAS NASHE’S “TERRORS OF THE NIGHT”
There is no doubt that Thomas Nashe read what John Florio had written about him in Second Fruits, and looked over at least that first dialogue, about John’s hunt through the wardrobe with Giordano Bruno, before scornfully tossing it aside. A couple of years after Second Fruits, in fact, in his Terrors of the Night (1594) Thomas Nashe is ruefully reflecting on his lack of a patron:
“In a leaden standish (inkstand) I stand fishing all day, but have none of Saint Peter’s luck to bring a fish to the hook that carries any silver in the mouth.”.
He refers to John Florio who in 1594 was still enjoying the comfortable patronage of Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. Thomas Nashe advises other pupils of the Nobility about which writers were worthy of their patronage, but failing on an apparent promise to put in any good word for Nashe:
“There be of them that carry silver in the mouth too, but none in the hand; that is to say, are very bountiful and honourable in their words, but (except it be to swear indeed) no other good deeds come from them.”
Nashe goes on to draw an unmistakable charicature of both John Florio and his most recent book, Second Fruits. Nashe, in fact, must have read at least Florio’s first dialogue, when he mentions Nolano, (Giordano Bruno) who pokes fun at his friend Florio for taking too much time to choose the right dress from his wardrobe:
“Filthy Italianate compliment-mongers they are who would fain be counted the Court’s Gloriosos, and the refined judges of wit; when if their wardrobes and the withered bladders of their brains were well searched, they have nothing but a few moth-eaten cod-piece suits, made against the coming of Mounsier, in the one, and a few scraps of outlandish proverbs in the other, and these alone do buckler them from the name of beggars and idiots.”
Thomas Nashe also recalls Florio’s fondness for quoting Torquato Tasso:
“Otherwise perhaps they may keep a coil (noisy discourse) with the spirit of Tasso, and then they fold their arms like braggarts, writhe their necks alla Neapolitano, and turn up their eye-balls like men entranced.”
This description matches with John Florio, with his six thousand elegant proverbs and his chests full of fancy suits. From this attack it is clear that the cause of Thomas Nashe’s bitterness is about the patronage Henry Wriothesley refused to give him and instead gave to John Florio.
In A World of Wordes John Florio returned to what he called an “old danger”, the attacks of critics, and revealed that he had tracked down a man who had devised a scurrilous, Latinate nick-name from Florio’s habitual signature ‘Resolute I. F.‘ This man was Hugh Sanford. He then accuses his familiar adversary Thomas Nashe of using this name in print and calls up a reference to the Roman poet Martial to point a finger at one who adds something scurrilous to another man’s book.
AN OFFENSIVE LATIN NICKNAME
John Florio identifies H. S. (the rival tutor Hugh Sandford) as the coiner of a rude Latin name:
“This fellow, this H. S., reading (for I would have you know that he is a reader and a writer too) under my last epistle to the reader I. F. made as familiar a word of F. as if I had been his brother. Now recte sit oculis magister tuis said an ancient writer to a much-like reading grammarian-pendant: God save your eye-sight, sir, or at least your in-sight.”
We then know Hugh Sanford insulted John Florio, making of his signature “Resolute I. F.” an offensive Latin nickname. Florio determines to reply in similar vein, and make rude Latin nicknames of this man’s initials, and demonstrate that he can do the same thing in several other languages too:
“And might not a man that can do as much as you (that is, read) find as much matter out of H.S. as you did out of I. F.? As for example H. S. why may it not stand as well for Haeres Stultitiae, as for Homo Simplex? or for Hara Suillina, as for Hostis Studiosorum? or for Hircus Satiricus, as well as for any of them? And this in Latin, besides Hedera Seguace, Harpia Subata, Humore Superbo, Hipocrito Simulatore in Italian. And in English world without end. Huffe Snuffe, Horse Stealer, Hob Sowter, Hugh Sot, Humphrey Swineshead, Hodge Sowgelder. Now Master H. S. if this do gall you, forbear kicking hereafter, and in the meantime you may make a plaister of your dried marjoram.”
After deriding H. S.’s lack of wit for a few sentences, John Florio goes on to say that:
“Had not H. S. so causelessly, so witlessly provoked me, I could not have been hired, or induced against my nature, against my manner thus far to have urged him; though happily hereafter I shall rather contempt him, than farther persue him. He is to blame (saith Martial, and further he brands him with a knavish name) that will be witty in another man’s book.”
These literary quarrels between John Florio and Nashe, Greene, Eliot and Sanford are the proof he was attacked several time in his career. They also show that his talent, his works, and his ability to get in contact with the most prominent men of the time, working and collaborating with other writers exposed him to real dangers. Nevertheless, he carried on his literary battles, keeping writing and never giving up when facing the threats and dangers from his enemies. Even later in his life, he still remained Resolute John Florio.
How to cite this entry:
“Resolute John Florio”, “Portrait and Personality”, URL= https://www.resolutejohnflorio.com/2019/10/11/john-florio-portrait/
This entry was first published on December 4, 2019. It was last modified on January 24, 2020.
- Yates, F. A., John Florio, The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, Cambridge University press, 1932, p. 276
- See 1.4 The Influence of John’s Father in First Fruits.
- Yates, F. A., John Florio, cit., p. 225
- Vaughan, W., Spirit of Detraction, University of Oxford, Text Archive, TCP: The third cicle of the spirit of detraction, Lineament X, pg. 110