Sir Richard Whittington’s Advancement
“There is something so fabulous,” says the editor of Old Ballads, following Grafton and Stow, “or at least, that has such a romantic appearance, in the history of Whittington, that I shall not choose to relate it, but refer my credulous readers to common tradition, or to the penny histories. Certain it is there was such a man; a citizen of London, by trade a mercer, and one who has left public edifices and charitable works enow behind him to transmit his name to posterity.”
HERE must I tell the praise Of worthy Whittington, Known to be in his dayes Thrice Maior of London. But of poor parentage Borne was he, as we heare, And in his tender age Bred up in Lancashire. Poorely to London than Came up this simple lad, Where with a marchant-man Soone he a dwelling had; And in a kitchen plast, A scullion for to be, Whereas long time he past In labour drudgingly. His daily service was Turning spitts at the fire; And to scour pots of brasse, For a poore scullions hire. Meat and drinke all his pay, Of coyne he had no store; Therefore to run away, In secret thought he bore. So from this marchant-man, Whittington secretly Towards his country ran, To purchase liberty. But as he went along, In a fair summer’s morne, Londons bells sweetly rung, “Whittington, back return!” Evermore sounding so, “Turn againe, Whittington; For thou in time shall grow Lord-Maior of London.” Whereupon back againe Whittington came with speed, A prentise to remaine, As the Lord had decreed. “Still blessed be the bells”; (This was his daily song) “They my good fortune tells, Most sweetly have they rung. If God so favour me, I will not proove unkind; London my love shall see, And my great bounties find.” But see his happy chance! This scullion had a cat, Which did his state advance, And by it wealth he gat. His maister ventred forth, To a land far unknowne, With marchandize of worth, As is in stories showne. Whittington had no more But this poor cat as than, Which to the ship he bore, Like a brave marchant-man. “Vent’ring the same,” quoth he, “I may get store of golde, And Maior of London be, As the bells have me told.” Whittington’s marchandise, Carried was to a land Troubled with rats and mice, As they did understand. The king of that country there, As he at dinner sat, Daily remain’d in fear Of many a mouse and rat. Meat that in trenchers lay, No way they could keepe safe; But by rats borne away, Fearing no wand or staff. Whereupon, soone they brought Whittingtons nimble cat; Which by the king was bought; Heapes of gold giv’n for that. Home againe came these men With their ships loaden so, Whittingtons wealth began By this cat thus to grow. Scullions life he forsooke To be a murchant good, And soon began to looke How well his credit stood. After that he was chose Shriefe of the citty heere, And then full quickly rose Higher, as did appeare. For to this cities praise, Sir Richard Whittington Came to be in his dayes Thrise Maior of London. More his fame to advance, Thousands he lent his king, To maintaine warres in France, Glory from thence to bring. And after, at a feast Which he the king did make, He burnt the bonds all in jeast, And would no money take. Ten thousand pound he gave To his prince willingly, And would not one penny have; This in kind curtesie. God did thus make him great, So would he daily see Poor people fed with meat, To shew his charity. Prisoners poore cherish’d were, Widdowes sweet comfort found; Good deeds both far and neere, Of him do still resound. Whittington Colledge is One of his charities; Records reporteth this To lasting memories. Newgate he builded faire, For prisoners to live in; Christs-Church he did repaire, Christian love for to win. Many more such like deedes Were done by Whittington; Which joy and comfort breedes, To such as looke thereon. Lancashire, thou hast bred This flower of charity: Though he be gon and dead Yet lives he lastingly. Those bells that call’d him so, “Turne again, Whittington,” Call you back many moe To live so in London.
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