Scogan, Henry (DNB00)
That in his language was so curyous.
Among the manuscripts at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, there is a brief collection of proverbs, in metre, headed 'Proverbium Scogani' (MS. 203, f. 22); the first line runs
Flee from the pres and dwell wyth sothfastness.
This is ascribed to Chaucer in Urry's edition of that poet's works, and is certainly by Henry Scogan. Scogan died in 1407. His possessions included the Norfolk manors of Raynham, Helhoughton, Toft, Oxwick, and Besterton. He was succeeded as lord of Haviles by his son Robert.
Shakespeare in ‘2 Henry IV’ (iii. 2) relates how Falstaff, in Henry IV's time, broke ‘Skogan's head at the court gate, when a crack not thus high.’ In 1600 Hathway and William Rankins prepared a book of dramatic entertainment, in which ‘Scoggin’ and Skelton were leading characters (Henslowe, Diary, p. 175). Ben Jonson, in his masque of the ‘Fortunate Isles’ (performed 9 Jan. 1624–5), introduces two characters, named respectively Scogan and Skelton, and describes the former as
A fine gentleman and a master of arts
Of Henry the fourth's times that made disguises
For the king's sons, and writ in ballad royal
Inigo Jones made a fanciful sketch of Scogan for the use of the actor who took that part (cf. Cunningham's Life of Inigo Jones).
Shakespeare and Jonson doubtless embodied hazy traditions of Scogan, the friend of Chaucer. But his reputation as a serious-minded poet was obscured by the fact that half a century after he had disappeared another of his surname, John Scogan (fl. 1480), is said to have acquired much wider fame in a very different capacity—that of fool at the court of Edward IV. No strictly contemporary reference to John Scogan is discoverable, although the christian name was borne at an earlier date by various members of the Norfolk family to which the poet belonged (cf. Blomefield, iii. 315, vii. 141). All that is known of the fool is derived from a volume purporting to collect his ‘Jests,’ which was compiled in the sixteenth century by, it is said, Dr. Andrew Boorde [q. v.], a witty physician, who died in 1549. The anonymous editor of the volume states, in a prefatory note, that he had ‘heard say that Scoggin did come of an honest stock, no kindred, and that his friends did set him to schoole at Oxford, where he did continue till he was made master of art.’ Warton, on no known authority, assigned him to Oriel College. The ‘Jests’ themselves include many that are familiar in ‘The merie tales of Skeltoun’ and similar collections of earlier date. The pretension that they were edited by Andrew Boorde was doubtless the fraudulent device of an enterprising bookseller, and it is not unreasonable to suspect that the whole was a work of fiction, and that Scogan is a fictitious hero. The tales supply a rough biography of Scogan, which is clearly to a large extent apocryphal. According to them, he was educated at Oxford and graduated in arts. He prepared for the priesthood the son of a husbandman of the neighbourhood, and when the plague raged in Oxford—apparently in 1471—withdrew with other tutors to the hospital of St. Bartholomew in the suburbs. Subsequently he dwelt in London, whence he removed for a time to Bury. At length he obtained the post of fool in the household of one Sir William Neville, whom it is difficult to identify. Neville brought him to court, and his wit delighted the king and queen. The former gave him a house in Cheapside. He went on progress with the court, and received rich gifts from the courtiers. Subsequently, by his freedom of speech, he offended the king and retired to Paris. He was well received by the French king, but was ultimately banished from France. Returning to England, he found himself still out of favour at the English court, and paid a visit to a friend named Everid, who resided at Jesus College, Cambridge. After travelling with Everid to Newcastle, he obtained pardon of the king and queen. Soon afterwards he died of a ‘perillous cough,’ and was buried on the east side of Westminster Abbey. The site of his grave was subsequently occupied by Henry VII's chapel. He married young, and had at least one son. Holinshed enumerates among the great men of Edward IV's time ‘Skogan, a learned gentleman, and student for a time at Oxforde, of a pleasaunte witte, and bente to mery devises, in respect whereof he was called into the courte, where, giving himself to his naturall inclination of mirthe and pleasant pastime, he plaied many sporting parts, althoughe not in suche uncivill maner as hath bene of hym reported.’ Holinshed evidently derived his information from the book of ‘Jests’ traditionally associated with Scogan's name.
No early edition of Scogan's ‘Jests’ is extant. In 1565–6 Thomas Colwell obtained a license for printing ‘the geystes of Skoggon gathered together in this volume.’ The wording of the entry suggests that some of the ‘geystes’ had already been published separately. The only argument adduced in favour of Boorde's responsibility for the publication lies in the fact that Colwell, the first publisher, had succeeded to the business of Robert Wyer, who was Boorde's regular publisher. The work was repeatedly reissued; an edition dated 1613 was in the Harleian collection. The earliest now known is dated 1626, and the title runs, ‘The First and Best Part of Scoggins Jests. Full of Witty Mirth and Pleasant Shifts, done by him in France and other places: being a Preservative against Melancholy. Gathered by Andrew Boord, Doctor of physicke, London. Printed by Francis Williams, 1626,’ 12mo (black letter). An abridgment (chap-book) was issued about 1680, and again by Caulfield in 1796. The full text is in Hazlitt's ‘Old English Jest-books’ (1864, ii. 37–161).
Numerous references to ‘Scoggin's Jests’ in sixteenth and seventeenth century literature attest their popularity. In 1575 the tract was in the library of Captain Cox. ‘Scoggin's Jests’ was coupled with ‘The Hundred Merry Tales’ as popular manuals of witticisms in the epilogue of ‘Wily Beguil'd,’ 1606 (written earlier). In 1607 there appeared a like collection of jests, under the title of ‘Dobson's Drie Bobbes, son and heire to Scoggin.’ ‘Scoggin's jests’ is numbered among popular tracts of the day by John Taylor, the water-poet, in his ‘Motto’ (1622), and in ‘Harry White his Humour’ (1640?), as well as in the comedy called ‘London Chaunticleers’ (1659). Fulk Greville, lord Brooke, versified a coarse anecdote of ‘Scoggin’ in ‘Caelica,’ No. xlix. In 1680, at the trial of Elizabeth Cellier, one of the judges, Baron Weston, indicated his sense of the absurdity of the evidence of a witness who confusedly related his clumsy search after a suspected person by remarking, ‘Why, Scoggin look'd for his knife on the housetop.’ The words refer to Scogan's account of his search for a hare on the housetop (State Trials, vii. 1043).
The frequent association of Scogan's name with Skelton's in popular literature is attributable to a double confusion, in that both Skelton and the elder Scogan were poets, and that on both Skelton and the alleged younger Scogan were fathered collections of jests. Drayton, in the preface to his ‘Eclogues,’ mentions that ‘the Colin Clout of Scogan under Henry VII is pretty’—a manifest misreading for Skelton. Gabriel Harvey describes ‘Sir Skelton and Master Scoggin’ as ‘innocents [when compared] to Signor Capricio,’ i.e. Harvey's foe, Thomas Nash (1567–1601) [q. v.][Doran's History of Court Fools, pp. 123–30; Hazlitt's Old English Jest-books, ii. 37 seq.; Shakespeare, ed. Malone and Boswell, 1821, xvii. 117–19; Chaucer's Works, ed. Tyrwhit; Ritson's Bibliographia Poetica; Warton's Hist. of English Poetry.]
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