Fee Fi Fo Saffron Walden

Recently I posted a piece about a giant who roars “Fee Fi Fo Fum!” and smells the blood of an Englishman, and a couple of years ago I became enthusiastic about Thomas Nashe (1567-c.1601) among whose works is the splendidly titled Have With You To Saffron Walden – which, alas, I never got round to reading. Had I done so, I would already have learned what I found out today.

Father had taken us to see John Gielgud in the title role [of King Lear] at Stratford-upon-Avon, and although Gielgud was marvellous, it was the words of Poor Tom, the Bedlam beggar on the stormy heath (actually Edgar, in disguise), that still rang in my ears:

Child Rowland to the dark tower came;

His word was still

Fie, foh, and fum!

I smell the blood of a British man!

“Did Shakespeare steal that from Jack and the Beanstalk?” I had whispered in Daffy’s ear. Or had the fairytale borrowed the words from Shakespeare? “Neither,” she whispered back: both had cribbed them from Thomas Nashe’s Have With You To Saffron Walden, which, having been staged in 1596, pre-dated them.

This is from The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley (2010), the second of his Flavia de Luce mysteries. These are new to me, but I am pleased to tell you that the heroine is an eleven-year-old amateur chemist and sleuth – a plucky and resourceful tot who bears a striking resemblance to our very own Tiny Enid, without the fascism and the club foot. It is a hugely enjoyable read, as one might expect from a book which makes mention of “a pair of gutta-percha motoring galoshes (‘Ideal for Country Breakdowns’)”.

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