Edward de Vere
17th Earl Of Oxford (12 April 1550 - 24 June 1604)
Labour and its Reward, included in Thomas Bedingfields "Englishing" of Cardanus Comforte (1573, '76)
The Labouring Man That Tills The Fertile Soil.
THE labouring man, that tills the fertile soil|
And reaps the harvest fruit, hath not in deed
The gain, but pain; and if for all his toil
He gets the straw, the lord will have the seed.
The manchet* fine falls not unto his share, [best wheat bread]
On coarsest cheat* his hungry stomach feeds; [poor quality bread]
The landlord doth possess the finest fare,
He pulls the flowers; the other plucks but weeds.
The mason poor, that builds the lordly halls,
Dwells not in them; they are for high degree;
His cottage is compact in paper walls,
And not with brick or stone as others be.
The idle drone, that labours not at all,
Sucks up the sweet of honey from the bee:
Who worketh most, to their share least doth fall;
With due desert reward will never be.
The swiftest hare unto the mastiff slow
Oft-times doth fall, to him as for a prey;
The greyhound thereby doth miss his game, we know,
For which he made such speedy haste away.
So he that takes the pain to pen the book,
Reaps not the gifts of goodly golden Muse,
But those gain that, who on the work shall look
And from the sour the sweet by skill doth choose.
For he that beats the bush the bird not gets,
But who sits still and holdeth fast the nets.
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford
It has been suggested1 that the "paper walls" is a reference to the Old Charges - the constitution and history of the freemasons - faithfully adhered to within masonic lodges? It is a teasing verse in another respect: tying in "The mason poor" with the question of "high degree". It is noteworthy that the author of Hamlet reverently read Cardanus Comforte - it is the basis of some of the finest philosophical lines ever spoken at Elsinore (Hamlet on sleep III.i.).
1. Ron Heisler, "The Impact of Freemasonry on Elizabethan Literature" originally published in The Hermetic Journal, 1990.