Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Speght, Thomas
SPEGHT, THOMAS (fl. 1600), schoolmaster and editor of Chaucer, doubtless came of a Yorkshire family (cf. Visitation of London, 1633–5, ii. 258). James Speght, D.D., of Christ's College, Cambridge (son of John Speght of Horbury, Yorkshire), published in 1613 ‘A briefe demonstration who have and of the certainty of their salvation that have the spirit of Christ,’ London, 8vo. Thomas matriculated as a sizar of Peterhouse in 1566, and graduated B.A. in 1569–1570, and M.A. in 1573. He became a schoolmaster, and, according to the epitaph on the tomb of his son Lawrence, a ‘paragon’ of the profession, sending to Cambridge, Oxford, and the Inns of Court ‘nere a thousand youths of good report.’ He is possibly identical with one Speght who in 1572 was a minor canon of Ely and head-master of the grammar school attached to that cathedral.
In 1598 Speght edited the works of Chaucer. The title of his edition ran: ‘The Workes of our Antient and learned English Poet, Geffrey Chaucer, newly Printed. In this Impression you shall find these Additions: (1) His Portraiture and Progenie Shewed. (2) His Life collected. (3) Argument to euery Booke gathered. (4) Old and Obscure Words explained. (5) Authors by him cited declared. (6) Difficulties opened. (7) Two Bookes of his neuer before printed’ [i.e. his ‘Dreame’ and ‘Flower and the Leaf’], London, fol. 1598. The volume was dedicated to Sir Robert Cecil. Some copies were published by George Bishop, and others by Thomas Wight. A prefatory letter, addressed to the editor in 1597, by Francis Beaumont (d. 1624) of West Goscote, Leicestershire, supplied ‘a judicious apology for the supposed levities of Chaucer.’ Neither the ‘Dreame’ nor the ‘Flower and the Leaf,’ which Speght congratulated himself on adding for the first time to the Chaucerian canon, has any claim to authenticity.
Meanwhile Francis Thynne [q. v.], whose father, William Thynne, had already published in 1532 an edition of Chaucer, was preparing notes for a full commentary on the poet's works. But, on the publication of Speght's edition, Thynne abandoned his project and contented himself with exhaustively criticising Speght's performance in a long letter which he entitled ‘Animadversions.’ This was addressed to Speght, although it was dedicated to Sir Thomas Egerton. The manuscript remained in the Bridgwater library. It was first printed in 1810 by (Archdeacon) Henry John Todd [q. v.] in his ‘Illustrations of Gower and Chaucer’ (pp. 1–83), and it was reprinted for the Early English Text Society in 1865 (new edit. 1875). Speght carefully studied Thynne's remarks, and bore their author no ill-will. When a reprint of Speght's edition of Chaucer was called for in 1602, he readily availed himself of Thynne's assistance, and, in the preface to his new edition, he acknowledged liberal assistance from his critic. Speght also utilised notes and corrections supplied by John Stowe, the chronicler. Speght's second edition bore the title: ‘The Workes of our Ancient and learned English Poet Geoffrey Chaucer newly printed. To that which was done in the former Impression thus much is now added: (1) In the life of Chaucer many things inserted. (2) The whole Worke by old Copies reformed. (3) Sentences and Prouerbes noted. (4) The Signification of the old and obscure words prooued. (5) The Latine and French not Englished by Chaucer translated. (6) The Treatise called Jacke Vpland against Friers: and Chaucer's A.B.C. called La Prière de nostre Dame, at this Impression added,’ London, fol. 1602. The volume was again dedicated to Sir Robert Cecil. ‘The Treatise called Jacke Vpland’ is spurious, but ‘Chaucer's A B C’ is a genuine work by Chaucer. A later edition, with Lydgate's ‘Siege of Thebes,’ appeared in 1687 (London, fol.).
Speght also contributed commendatory Latin verses to Abraham Fleming's ‘Panoplie of Epistles’ (1576) and to John Baret's ‘Alvearie’ (1580).
Speght's son Laurence accompanied Sir Paul Pindar on his embassy to Constantinople, and was on 10 March 1638–9 granted in reversion the office of surveyor-general of the customs (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1638–1639, p. 551). He was buried at Clopton in Northamptonshire (Bridges, Northamptonshire, ii. 372).
Rachel Speght, possibly Thomas's daughter, was one of the writers who replied to ‘The Arraignment of Women,’ an ill-natured attack on her sex which Joseph Swetnam [q. v.] published in 1615. Rachel Speght's reply, which was in prose, was entitled ‘A Mouzell for Melastomus, the cynicall bayter and foulmouthed barker against Evah's sex’ (London, N. Okes, 1617). The authoress dedicated the work to her grandmother, wife of Dr. Thomas Moundeford [q. v.] She afterwards pursued her attack on Swetnam in ‘Certain Queries to the Bayter of Women, with Computation of some Part of his Diabolical Discipline,’ 4to, 1617. Rachel Speght also published a poem in six-line stanzas entitled ‘Mortalities Memorandum, with a dream prefixed, imaginary in names, really in matter, London, by Edward Griffin for Jacob Bloome,’ 1621.[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr.; Lowndes's Bibliographer's Manual; Thynne's Animadversions on Speght's Edition of Chaucer (Chaucer Soc. 1865, and Early English Text Soc. 1875).]