“Pray accept these two scrawls, if not for my sake, who am their author, then in memory of that blessed Royal soul (now in glory) whose they were and who a hundred times has turned them over in recognition of my sincere service. “
The death of Queen Anne on March 2nd 1619 marks the end of Florio’s active career. He was residing in Fulham, which was at that time a separate village connected with the City by a very bad country road frequently impassable on foot on account of the mud, and by river. Old-age and poverty slowly but surely overwhelmed though never wholly overcame his native hue of resolution. 1 From a letter in Italian addressed to Francis Widebank at Whitehall, dated December 9th 1619, it is all too clear that no sooner had his appointment at Court terminated, than his long and faithful period of service was immediately forgotten even to ignoring his just claims to a pension:
“The cask gives what it contains. The vessel of my impoverished estate (in this, for me, barren season) does not permit me to present to your worship (as I should wish to do) any more precious liquor than this, which I distilled in other days (whilst Troy yet stood) from the puny vine of my barren wit, crushing its grapes, or rather sour grapes, in the wine press of my lucubrations. It grieves me that it is not a beverage worthy of your delicate palate but, such as it is, I pray you to accept it in good part. If it is not fir for you to taste, be pleased to stow it in some little flask, that is, in some small corner of your rich library, under some shelf, so that, if not as wine, it may some time as vinegar season a poor salad. But whither am I tending with this sour metaphor, which, if it were not for the fear of wearying you, I should develop at too great length (if I have not already done so). Pray accept these two scrawls, if not for my sake, who am their author, then in memory of that blessed Royal soul (now in glory) whose they were and who a hundred times has turned them over in recognition of my sincere service. Your courtesy encourages me to send you my servant to kiss your hands and to pray that, since you have kneaded the mass of flour and water, you will also be pleased, for God’s sake, to add to it a tiny morsel of your salt and so reduce it to bread for the nourishment of my famished appetite by baking it in the oven of your benignity. I come confidently to you for help being myself unskilled in the intricacies of worldly affairs, and I pray you to ease me from these vexatious cares in which my misfortunes have engulfed me so that I am almost consumed away. The uncertainty of the weather, the severe cold, the dirty roads, my importunate old age and sickly state of health prevent me from seeing you every day as I should. Nevertheless with this ill-favouredly bungled up supplication I fly (like a wolf driven from the wood by hunger) to your worship’s hoped-for aid, and, wishing you the height of good fortune and perfect felicity I heartily kiss your hands, and (asking pardon for presumptuously burdening you with this task) I sincerely confirm myself your affectionate friend and trusty servant, J. Florio. In haste from my “tusculano” at Fulham, Dec. 9th. 1619.” 2
Unfortunately the two enclosures have disappeared and so we do not know the nature of these compositions of Florio’s which formerly belonged to Queen Anne. Windebank, who had been his pupil, used his good offices to some effects since the King, by a letter patent of January 1620, granted Florio a life pension of 100 pounds, payable quarterly beginning from March 25th 1620. Sadly, the pension was never paid. However, Florio was able for sometime, to borrow on the strength of the patent. According to the endorsement on Florio’s first letter to Cranfield received on November 11, 1621, his pension was 250 pounds in arreas. A further note is added to the effect that the write must have been a poet or a musician in the service of both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Anne. 3
Even his straitened circumstances did not destroy his life-long habit of insisting upon showing his gratitude towards his friends in some tangible form. He commissioned his servant Arthur to visit Windebank on his behalf, to kiss his hands and to present him with “duo scartafacci” in memory of that blessed “Royal Soul (now in glory) to whom they used to belong and who “cento volte li ha squinternati”. The two letters addressed to Cranfield in 1621 and 1623, like everything else that Florio wrote, are very characteristic of the man. “Seguendo l’orme del mio genio”, he states his case in dignified yet impassioned language. Desperate as his traits must have been, with a debtor’s prison and a pauper’s grave looming before him – there is no reason to doubt his sincerity. His appeal for justice is far from servile or whining; a flash, indeed, of the old fighting spirit creeps in when he alludes to the “Imperiall Seale of England (which I ever deemed inviolable)” and pleads that he may be allowed to finish and publish the “great and laborious work, for which my Contrie and posteritie…., so long as English is spoken, shall have cause to thank and remember me.” To the very last, as the lenghty will made on July 20th 1625 – a veritable testamentum ad posteros – shows, he is the same ‘still Resolute John Florio’. 4–
FLorio’s testament: Pembroke
Pembroke, to whom Florio had willed his library and his manuscripts, refused to accept the legacy of Florio’s library. It is today not known where his library is. The books were probably dispersed apart from the copy of Volpone, signed by Ben Jonson. Arundel del Re has found another book “Imprese di Paolo Giovio” now at the British Library, bearing his signature.
John Florio testament:
John Florio Testament, proved in the prerogative court of CANTERBURY QY HELE: 1625.
In the blessed name of God the Father my gracious Creator & Maker, of God the sonne Jesus Christ my mercifull Savyor and in Unity & .Irinity my most loving Comforter and preserver Amen. I John Florio of Fullham in the Countie of Middlesex Esquire, being of good health of sound minde & perfecte memory, hearty thankes bee ever ascribed and given therfore unto Allmighty God And well remembring & knowing that nothing is more certayne unto mortal man then death, and noe one thing more uncertayne then is the houre thereof, doe make appoint pronounce and declare this my Testament, therein fully contayning my last direct & unrevocable will and .intention in manner and forme fo1- lowing That is to say First & principally as duty and Christianity willeth mee, I most heanily and penetently sorrowfull for all my sinnes committ and recommend my sou1e into the mercifull hands of Almighty God, assuredly trusting and FayrhfuHy beleeving by the onely meritts bitter passion, precious bloud, and glorious death of the immaculate Lambe Jesus Christ his sonne, to have full remission, and absolute Forgivenes of aH my sinnes whatsoever, and after this transitory life, to live and raigne with him in his most blessed kingdome of heaven. As for my wretched Body, I commit to the same as earth to earth and dust to dust, to bee buried in such decent order, as to my deare Wife, and by my Executors heere undernamcd shalbee thought meete and convenient. And as touching the disposing and ordering of all and whatoever such goods, Cattle, chattle, Leases, monie, plate, Jewells, bookes, apparrell, bedding, hangins, peawter, brasse, houshould stuffe moveables, irnmoveables, and all other things whatsoever named, or unnamed, specifìde, or unspecifide wherwith my most gracious Cod, hath beene pleased to endowe mee with, or hereafter shall of his infinite mercy bee pleased to bestowe or conferre upon me in this transitory life, I will appoint, give order dispose, & bequeath all, and evary part, and parcell of the same ftrmely and unalterably to stand in manner and forme following That is to say, Item, I give and bequeath unto my daughter Aurelia Molins the Wedding Ring wherewith I married her mother, being aggrievcd at my . very heart, that by reason of my poverty 1 am not able to leave her anything els. Item I give and bequeath as a poore token of my love to my sonne in law James Molins, a Faire blacke velvett deske, embroidered with scede pearles, and with a silver and guilt inkehorne and dust box therin, that was Queene Annes. Item, 1 give and bequeath unto the right honourable, my singulare, & ever honored good Lord William Earle of Pembroke Lord Chambérlaine: to the Kings most excellent Majestie, and one oJ bis royall counsell of state (if at my death hee shall then bee living) all my Italian, French and Spanish bookees, as well printed as unprinted, being in number about Three hundred and Fortie, namefy my new and perfict Dictionary. as also my, tenn Dialogues in Italian and English, and my unbound volume oJ diuers written Collections and rapsodies, most heartilie entreating his Honourable Lordshippe (as hee once promised mee) to accept oJ them as oJ a signe and token oJ my seruice and affiction to his honor, and for my sake to piace them in his library. eyther at Wilton or els at Baynards Castle at London, humbfy desiring him to give way and Javourable assistance that my Dictionarie and Dialogues may be printed and the profitt therof accrud unto my wifè. Item, I doe likewise give and bequeat unto his noble Lordshippe the Corinne stone as a jewell fitt for a Prince which Ferdinando the great Duke of Tuscanie sent as a most precious gift (among divers others) unto Queene Anne of blessed memory; the use & vertue wherof is written in two peeces of paper both in Italian and English bring in a little box with the sto ne, most humbfy beseeching bis honor (as 1 right, confidentfy hope & trust hee will in charity doe if neede require) to take my poore and deere wifè into bis protection, & not suffir her to be wrongfùlfy molested by any enemi of myne, as also in her extremity to affoorde her his helpe, good word and assistance to my Lord Treasurer, that shee may bee paid my wages, and the arrearages of that which is unpaid or shal bee behinde at my death. The rest, the residue & remainder, of all whatsoever and singuIar my goods, cattles, chattles, jewells, plate, debts Leases, money, or monie worth, houseould stuffe, utensills, English bookes, moveables, or imrnoveables, named or not named, and things whatsoever, by mee before not given, disposed or bequeathed (provided that my debts bee paid and my Funerall discharged) I woolly give, flilly bequeath, absolutely leave, assigne, & unalterably consigne unro my deerly beloved wife Rose Florio, most heartily greiving and ever sorrowing, that I cannot give or leave her more, in requitall ofher tender love, loving care, painfull dilligence, and continualilabour, to mee, and of mee in ali my Fortunes, and many sicknesses, then whome never had husband a more loving wife, painfull nurce, or comfortable consorte, And I doe make institute, ordaine, appoint & name the right Reverend Father in God, Theophilus Feild, Lord bishoppe of Landaffe, and Mr Richard Cluet Doctor of diviniry, Vicar, and preacher of the Word of God at Fulham, both my much esteemed, doarely beloved, & truely honest good Frends my sole and onely Executors and overseers; And I doe give to each of thern for their paines an ould greene velvett deske with a silver.inke and dust box in each of them, that were sometymes Queene Annes my Soveraigne Mistrisse, entreating both to accept of them, as a token of my hearty affection towards thern, and to excuse my poverty which disableth mee to requite the trouble, paines, and courtesie, which I confìdently beleeve they will charitably and for Gods sake undergoe in advising directing and helping my poore and deere wife in execueing of this my last and unrevocable will and Testament, if any should bee soe malicious or unnaturall as to crosse or question the same; And I doe utterly revoke, and for ever renounce, frustrate, disanull, cancell, and make void, ali and whatsoever former Wills, legacies, bequests, promises, guifts, executors or overseers (if it should happen that anie bee forged or suggested for until this tyme, I never writt made or fìnished any but this onely). And I will appoint & ordaine ,that this, & none but this onely written all with mine owne hand, shall stand in full force and vigor for my last and unrevocable. Will and Testament, and none other nor otherwise. As for the debts that I owe, the greatest, and onelie is upon an obligatory Writing of myne owne hand, which my daughter Aurelia Molins wirh importunity wrested from of abour threescore pound, wheras the truth, and my conscience telleth mee, & soe knoweth her conscience, it is bue Thirty Foure pound or therabouts. Bue let that passe, since I was soe unheedy, as to make and acknowledge the said writing, I am willing that it bee paid and discharged in this forme and manner, My sonne in lawe (as my daughter his Wife knoweth full well) hath inhis hands as a pawne a faire gold ring of mine, with thirteenc Faire table diamonds therein enchased; which cost Queene Anne my gracious Mistrisse seaven and Forty pounds starline, and for which I might many tymes have had forty pounds readie money: upon the said ring my sonne in the presence of his wife lent mee Tenne pounds, I desire him and pray him to take the overplus of the said Ring in parte of payment, as also a leaden Ceasterne which hee hath of myne standing in his yard at his London-house that cost mee at a portesale Fortie shillings, as also a silver candle cup with a cover worrh about Forty shillings which I left at his house being sicke there; desiring my sonne and daughter, that their whole debt may bee made up, & they satisfìed with selling the Lease of my house in Shoe-Lane, and soe accquitt and discharge my poore wife who as yet knoweth nothing of this debt. Moreover I entreat my deare wife that if at my death my servant Artur [blank] shall chance to be with mee, & in my service, that for my sake shee give him, such poore doubletts, breeches, hattes, and bootes as I shall leave, and there withall one of my ould cloakes soe it bee not lyned with velvett. In Witnesse whereofI the said John Florio to this my last Will & Testament (written every sillable with myne owne hand, and with long and mature deliberacon digested, contayning foure shieetes of paper, the First of eight and twenty lynes, the second of nyne & twenty, the third of nine & twenty and the Fourth of six lines), have putt, sett, written and affìxed my name, and usual seale of my armes. The rwentieth day of July in the Yeare of our Lord and Savyour Jesus Christ 1625 and in the First yeare of the raigne of our Soveraigne Lord and King (whorn God preserve) Charles the First of that name of England, Scotland, France and Ireland King. By mee John Florio being, thankes bee ever given to my most gracious God in perfect sence and memory. Proved I June 1626 by Rose Florio the relict, the executors named in the Will for certain reasons renouncing execution.
What Florio’s life during the last years of enforced retirement must have been it is not difficult to conjecture. It is possible that William Vaughan visited him as suggested by Miss Yates, when he mentions the “garden in the suburbs”. Whether or not some of his old associates came to see him in Bear St., books were Florio’s closest and most faithful friends. The last fragments of his writings conjure up the picture of Florio sitting in his study, clad in his second-best doublet, a velvet-lined cloak wrapped round him when the evenings were chilly, in earnest converse with a goodly company of writers – Italian, French, Spanish and English-questioning them affectionately and pausing every little while to turn to his “dark greene velvet desk with silver ink and dust box” and note down in his precise and beautiful script some witty saying, pregnant aphorism or curious word, that fell from their lips.
Florio: his death
It is now generally accepted that Florio died of the plague during the great epidemic of 1625, some time between October 1625 and April 1626. On the 26th of the latter month Mistress Florio, Rose Spicer, was assessed as widow in the Poor Rate Book for Fulham. What subsequently became of the widow is not know, but his daughter Aurelia Molins died a wealthy woman leaving behind her a number of children and grandchildren.
- Del Re, A.
- The English translation is by Frances Yates. This is the original letter written in Italian: “La botte dà quello che ha. Il vaso della mia pouera conditione (in questa per me sterile stagione) non mi permette di presentar’ a S.S. (conforme al mio desio) più pretioso liquore, di quello, che altre volte (mentre Troia stette) ho vendemmiato dal genio della picciola vigna del mio arrido ingegno, e spremuto dalla anzi che nò lambrusca, che uua nel torcolo delle mie lugubrationi. Mi dispiace, che non sia beuanda conforme al suo delicato gusto: pure come si sia, la supplico aggradirlo: Et doue non le venisse in taglio di assaggiarne, sia seruita, colocarlo in qualche fiaschetto, o cantoncino del suo ricco museo, sotto alcuna scantìa in terra, che, se non come vino, almeno come agresto potrà talfiata stagionarle qualche insalatuccia. Ma doue vado io con questa agra metafora nella quale, se non fosse il rispetto c’ho di non attediarla, mi stenderei (Se già non l’ho aver fatto) fino al troppo. Aggradisca di gratia S.S. questi due scartafacci, se non per amor mio, che ne sono l’autore, almeno per memoria di quella benedetta anima Reale, (hora in gloria) che ne fu posseditrice, et cento volte gli ha squinternati, come segnale della mia verso di lei candida seruitù. La sua cortesia m’inuita a mandarle il mio seruidore a basciarle le mani in nome mio, et pregarla, che come ha impastata la massa di farina ed acqua, cosi, per l’amor di Dio, si compiaccia, con aggiungnerci un po-po del suo sale, ridurla a pena nutritiuo al mio famelico apetito, et cuocerlo nel forno della sua benignità. Ricorro da lei in confidenza, seguendo l’orme del mio genio, per non saper’ io più che nulla di questi intrighi del mondo; et pregola a solleuarmi da questi affanosi trauagli, ne’ quali le mie disgratie m’hanno ingolfato, e ridotto fino al verde. L’incertezza del tempo; gl’aspri freddi; le strade fangose; la mia importuna vecchiaia; ed infermiccia complessione m’impediscono di poterla vedere conforme al mio debito, ogni giorno. Però con questa mal’abbozzata supplica rifuggo (come lupo cacciato dal bosco dalla fame) allo sperato sussidio si S.S. alla quale augurando il colmo d’ogni compito bene, e perfetta felicità, di cuore le bascio le mani, et (chiedendole perdono del presuntuoso trauaglio, che le addosso) me le confermo ingenuamente per suo affettionj.mo amico, ed inuiolabil seruidore. J Florio. In fretta, dal mio tusculano di Fullam a 9 di Decembre 1619.”
- Del Re, p. XXV
- Del Re, XXVI