Because of the wide range of his abilities and interests, Thomas Lodge’s biography is often offered as an example of the life of a typical Elizabethan gentleman and man of letters. Neither the date nor the place of his birth is known definitely, but he was probably born in 1558. He was the second son of a Lord Mayor of London. Lodge studied at the Merchant Taylors’ School in London and entered Trinity College, Oxford, in 1573, completing his bachelor’s degree in 1577. In April of 1578, he was admitted to study law at Lincoln’s Inn, London.
Lodge’s early years in London were marked by personal problems, the exact nature of which is unknown, but which led to an appearance in court and a brief period of imprisonment. He may have had some problems with debts, which may have led to the criticism of usury that appears in some of his works, including A Looking Glass for London and England, but it is unlikely that he was ever truly profligate. More likely, his personal difficulties resulted from his leanings toward and eventual conversion to Catholicism. Lodge’s literary career began in 1579 with the publication of an epitaph for his mother. The next year, he became widely known for his reply to Stephen Gosson’s School of Abuse (1579), a pamphlet attacking the arts on moral grounds. The quarrel between Lodge and Gosson continued for some years, with Lodge’s final reply appearing in an epistle published with his An Alarum...
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Thomas Lodge’s biography is sketchy. The existing evidence prompted early biographers to portray him as a dissolute rake—disinherited by his family and jailed for debts—but more recent writers have been kinder. Although his mother was apparently worried about Lodge’s stability, she also favored him in her will above her other sons. Furthermore, even though there are ample records of suits and countersuits involving Lodge and various creditors, some of his problems seem to have been caused by naïveté, such as neglecting to get receipts and then being sued for ostensibly unpaid debts.
Lodge was born probably in 1558, since on taking his bachelor’s degree in 1577 he would most likely have been eighteen or nineteen. Moreover, in a lawsuit with his brother William in 1594, he lists his age as being about thirty-six. In A Treatise on the Plague, he talks about London as if it were his birthplace, and presumably it was. His father was a prosperous grocer who became city alderman and, in 1562, Lord Mayor of London. As a child, Thomas Lodge may have been a page in the household of Henry Stanley, fourth earl of Derby: A Fig for Momus opens with a dedication to Stanley’s son, William, and reminds him of the time his “noble father in mine infancie . . . incorporated me into your house.” If this reference is to a lengthy period of time spent in Stanley’s household, he surely would have met the famous people of his day and acquired the attributes—and education—of a gentleman.
Lodge’s affluence, however, was not to continue. By the time his father had finished his term as Lord Mayor, he declared bankruptcy, a victim of financial problems caused by England’s war with France and the 1563 outbreak of the plague. When Thomas Lodge entered the Merchant Taylor’s School in 1571, he was one of a group of students who were admitted as the sons of poor men, paying reduced tuition. In 1573, Lodge entered Trinity College, Oxford. After taking his degree, he entered the Inns of Court in 1578.
His relationship with his parents at this period is problematical. When his father died in 1584, Thomas Lodge was not mentioned in his will. By this time, Lodge had written pamphlets—his A Reply to Gosson—and perhaps had converted to Catholicism. Trinity College, which had been founded during Mary’s reign, still reflected strong Catholic influences, and Lincoln’s Inn also had strong Catholic affinities, numbering among its...
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