The History of graund Amoure and la bel Purcell, called the Pastime of pleasure

Little is known about Stephen Hawes. He was educated at Oxford, studied English poetry and literature, and served in the court of Henry VII as one of the grooms of the chamber. Few of Hawes’s works survive in any condition—the most notable being Pastime of Pleasure, a forty-six-chapter poem completed in 1506 and dedicated to the king. He wrote in the midst of long period with scant production of English literature. Master John Lydgate was his inspiration and Pastime of Pleasure looked back to a golden age of romantic chivalry. As C. S. Lewis comments, “the devout solemnity of his allegorical stories gleam fitfully through his broken-backed metre… There was a certain genuinely medieval fineness about his mind if not about his art.”

Walking in a garden, Graund Amoure chooses to take the path of worldly dignity rather than contemplation and meets Dame Fame, who tells of la bel Purcell and rouses his passion. She directs him toward the Tower of Doctrine, where Amoure is instructed in the seven sciences. In the Tower of Music he meets and dances with la bel Purcell. They fall in love, but she must immediately sail to a faraway palace and reside there. Benefiting from further instruction in the Tower of Chivalry, Amoure defeats a three-headed giant, a seven-headed giant, and finally a monstrous fire-breathing dragon before reuniting with la bel Purcell. In the final chapters, Dame Fame promises to spread his name after his death, but then Time challenges Fame’s endurance, who is then trumped by Eternity.

Wynkyn de Worde printed profusely illustrated editions of Pastime of Pleasure in 1509 and 1517, of which three copies exist (only one complete). The book was reprinted in 1554 without illustrations and again in 1555 with the earlier woodcuts. The present copy is missing the final five leaves including the colophon, which identifies which the two otherwise identical 1555 editions it is. These three later editions are also rare.

The great 18th-century poet Thomas Gray owned, signed, and annotated the present copy. His miniscule marginal notes make corrections, define obscure words, and provide information about Lydgate’s works, which are referenced in the poem; he offers no criticism. After publication of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Gray largely retired into private study. He had intended to write a history of English poetry and studied this book. Master of allegory Edmund Spenser probably also read Pastime of Pleasure.  

Chrzanowski 1555h *

STC 12951 or 12952

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675