Thomas Lodge

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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 Against Usurers (1584).

Around 1585, Lodge made a voyage to the Canaries, during which he wrote his famous romance Rosalynde. Little is known of his activities during the next four years, but it is likely that he spent part of his time writing for the theater and that his two extant plays date from this period. He seems to have renounced the theater about 1589. In August of 1591, Lodge sailed to South America with Sir Thomas Cavendish. The expedition was plagued by misfortune, and Lodge was one of the few survivors to return safely to England.

Lodge continued to produce and publish a variety of nondramatic literature until 1596, when he turned to the study of medicine, receiving a degree from Avignon in 1598; the degree was recognized by Oxford in 1602. After studying law, enjoying a modestly successful literary career, and experiencing a brief stint as an adventurer, Lodge seems to have found his place in life as a physician. He married about 1601 and apparently developed a large practice in London, particularly among the Catholic population. Although the date of his conversion is unknown, he was definitely a professed Catholic by this time and had some difficulties with the law over his recusancy. He died in September, 1625, perhaps of the plague, which he may have caught while attending the poor in London.


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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

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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. InA 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 members many recusants. In 1581, Lodge had been called before the Privy Council to answer charges, perhaps stemming from his religion. His literary activity and new religion might have displeased his father enough to cause him to disinherit his son; on the other hand, his mother’s will, made in 1579, had already left him a large estate, which perhaps accounts for his father’s reluctance to leave him any more. Yet even his mother’s intentions are open to speculation. She stipulated that Lodge was not to receive his bequest until he was twenty-five, prompting some biographers to believe that she doubted her son’s stability. She also included a proviso that Lodge would receive a yearly allowance only if he stayed at Lincoln’s Inn and conducted himself “as a good student ought to do.” If his behavior displeased her executors, they were to distribute his bequest among her other sons; Lady Anne seems to have felt the need to exercise special control over this particular son. Early biographers tended to see Lodge at this period as a profligate and debt-ridden young man. This view, however, is based partly on Gosson’s attack on Lodge’s character, which is hardly a credible source. Lodge’s youthful degeneracy seems to have been exaggerated in early accounts of his life.

Sometime between 1585 and 1588, Lodge made a sea voyage, a venture he was to repeat in 1591 with Sir Thomas Cavendish. This latter voyage shows the perils to which the Elizabethan sense of adventure could lead: The expedition was plagued with bad weather, a mutinous crew, and widespread disease. Throughout his life, Lodge had published regularly, no matter what he did on a day-to-day basis; in 1597, however, he turned to the study of medicine and from then on produced only translations or works on medicine. He took his medical degree from the University of Avignon and probably practiced for a while in Belgium. He later returned to England and, in 1602, had his degree from Avignon registered at Oxford, a formality that would, perhaps, have attracted English clients. During the plague of 1603, Lodge worked tirelessly, even publishing a treatise on the disease with the intent of discrediting quack doctors who were profiting from people’s fear and ignorance.

In 1604, Lodge married the widow of an Elizabethan spy who had formerly been a Catholic working for the pope. Although this man eventually became an atheist, his wife remained loyal to her religion, receiving a pension from Gregory XIII. Lodge’s marriage to her—along with his own earlier conversion—apparently brought him under suspicion by the government, and the Royal College of Physicians denied him permission to practice in London. By 1605, Lodge was again practicing in Belgium. Finally, with the help of the English ambassador to France, he was allowed to return to England and, in 1610, entered the Royal College of Physicians. The plague again swept through London in 1625 and Lodge was made plague-surgeon. He died in 1625, presumably a victim of that disease.

In many ways Lodge’s life exemplifies the variety of experience that a Renaissance man might have. While born to wealth, he was often involved in litigation over debts, whether incurred through real want or only through carelessness. A writer of delicate sonnets, he was also an adventurer who undertook two sea voyages. Although he was not persecuted for his religion as actively as some, his fortunes still rose and fell as his beliefs changed. Finally, the rather heedless young man acquired over the years a moral depth that caused him to work assiduously as a doctor throughout the plague years while others were fleeing London.