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This article is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

Vestiges 9: Thomas Nashe Adam Crothers
Vestiges 9 Image of Choise of Valentines

Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge

Thomas Nashe studied at St John’s in the 1580s. A sizar scholar, he performed menial tasks for other members of College in exchange for a reduced financial burden; becoming a writer might have seemed inevitable, and his creative life would come to be identified, not least by Nashe, with financial strife. Aesthetic ideals of ‘purifide words and hallowed verse’ buy little bread, and so it was that Nashe found himself writing, among poetry and pamphlets, such works as The Choise of Valentines, on which patrons would, or might, smile.

This ‘Merie Ballad of Nash His Dildo’ is set in a house of ill repute on Valentine’s Day, and its depiction of chaste romantic love and virtuous poverty soon becomes concerned with erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and, conse quently, the marital aid alluded to in the subtitle. It is, then, a bawdy piece of work, the depiction of sexuality more in line with toilet-wall graffiti than with the high erotica to whose status it pretends, or pretends to pretend, when describing for instance ‘A loftie buttock, barrd with azure veines’. It might be understandable that Nashe’s college should hold only an 1899 printing of the poem and not one of the extant manuscripts.

Yet if Nashe allows puerility into the tour of the female character’s anatomy, she still gets off – so to speak – lightly. She might be ...

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