Read the original document handwritten by John Florio

“…come la fame caccia il lupo del bosco…”

The British Library has digitised a collection of original letters addressed to Sir Robert Bruce Cotton 1, (b. 1571, d. 1631), first Baronet, of Conington Hall in Huntingdonshire, antiquarian and founder of the Cottonian Library. Whereas the British Museum’s catalogue describes this manuscript as a ‘collection of 328 original Letters to Sir Robert Cotton’ 2, it actually contains 364 items of which more than 360 are original letters addressed to Robert Cotton. Many of the letters concern loans from and acquisitions of manuscripts for the Cottonian Library. Among the authors are famous poets and playwrights; one of them is John Florio, who wrote a letter in 1600 in which he asks Cotton for the remittance of tuition fees and emphasises the dependence of his livelihood on such payments. The letter is written in Italian:

“Molto Magnifico Signor mio, come il prete vive del’altare, cosi io vivo dei miei scolari: hora perche veggo che vostra signoria per i suoi negozij non ha tempo ne comodità di studiare, essendole io creditore di un mese, la prego quanto posso le piaccia mandarmi per il mio putto il salario che per ragione mi viene: come la fame caccia il lupo del bosco, così la necessita mi fa ricorrere a V.S. oltre il favore che mi farete io ve ne harò perpetuo obligo, e cosi augurandovi ogni felicità faccio voto di essere vostro sincerissimo et affettionj. mo amico et servitore. Di casa sua in fretta a 11 di Marzo 1600. John Florio.

Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 174r

English translation3:

Molto Magnifico Signor mio, as the priest gets his living from the altar so do I from my pupils: now since I see that your lordship is too busy to have time or opportunity for study, being your creditor for a month I earnestly pray you to be kind enough to send me, through my messenger, the fee which is due to me: as hunger drives the wolf from the wood, so necessity obliges me to have recourse to your lordship. I shall be perpetually obliged to you for your favour. With all good wishes, I am your sincere friend and servant. From his house in haste, the 11th March 1600. John Florio.”

Frances Yates remarked that the most interesting thing about this letter is its style:

“Even a bill is graced by two proverbs, “come il prete vive del’altare” and “come la fame caccia il lupo del bosco”. Evidently he lived up to the ad vice he gave his pupils and never neglected to hang on the ornament of a proverbial expression where possible, not only in formal dedications but even in an ordinary little note like this. We shall never be nearer than in this note to Florio’s conversation and there can be no doubt that he followed his own advice in that too, and peppered his talk with proverbs 4 .”

Click on the image to look at the original document handwritten by John Florio.

john florio british library
Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 174r



  1. Cotton MS Julius C III
  2. See Planta, Catalogue (1802), p. 9
  3. Yates, F., A., John Florio, the life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, Cambridge University Press, 1934, p. 218
  4. Ivi, p. 219
Giovanni Florio, known as John Florio, is recognised as the most important humanist in Renaissance's England.

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