Small 4to., pp. , 47, , the portrait (frequently lacking) supplied from the Caulfield reprint of , last line of text I2v slightly shaved but readable; a very good copy in old calf, neatly rebacked; red signature and monogram stamps to title verso of William Musgrave (1735-1800, collector and trustee of the British Museum, to which institution he donated nearly 2000 books), ownership inscription to title-page of the bibliophile Thomas Park (item 109, priced £3 3s, in his Bibliotheca Anglo-Poetica offered by Longmans in 1815), modern bookplate of the magician and collector Ricky Jay
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A Recantation of an Ill Led Life: or, a Discoverie of the High-way Law. With ... many cautelous Admonitions and full Instructions, how to know, shunne, and apprehend a Thiefe ... The third edition, with Additions.
Third and final edition, incorporating Clavell’s final revisions (it is 138 lines longer than the first edition of 1628), and a new preface by ‘his friend’ Richard Meighen.
This extraordinary autobiographical poem has long been quarried for its practical information about highway robbery in the early seventeenth century. A celebrated scapegrace, well-born and plausibly educated, Clavell was expelled from Brasenose College for stealing plate, and drifted from penury in London to a life of crime on the road. Apprehended, convicted and condemned, he procured a royal pardon by soliciting Queen Anne’s intercession, and gained his freedom with this recantation in verse, dedicated to James I and everyone else influential he could think of. He kept his promise to reform, and after a flirtation with the London stage (one play, a prologue and some commendatory poems, friendship with Massinger, Marmion and Jonson), he carved out a second career as physician and lawyer in Ireland, where he married an eleven-year-old heiress and seems to have been well-liked and useful, if rather full of himself, for the rest of his life.
A Recantation is candid and unsentimental as autobiography, and more than competent as verse. It is best known for its display of ‘tricks of the trade’, true first-hand knowledge which subsequent writers on low-life cheerfully pillaged. One detail may bear repetition, for it has escaped Shakespearians: as examples of pass-words used by the muffed-up thieves in the darkness, Clavell gives three: ‘Round-de-la-vera Hay, / The Moone shines bright or else, Ware’s Post away’ (F3r). If traditional passwords did not vary much between 1595 and 1620, would not a knowing audience smile to hear Lorenzo begin his lyrical abduction of Jessica with ‘The moon shines bright’ (Merchant, V. i. 1)? Both lovers are masked, we may imagine, and will rifle Shylock’s coffers before eloping.
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