05 May 2022
John Cruso of Norwich: a man of many parts
John Cruso (b. 1592/3) of Norwich, the eldest son of Flemish migrants, was a man of many parts: author, virtuoso networker, successful merchant and hosier, Dutch church elder and militia captain. His literary oeuvre is marked by its polyvocality. He wrote verse in English and Dutch, often sprinkled with Latin and French. He was also a noted military author, publishing five military works, which made a significant contribution to military science before and during the English Civil Wars. These works display Cruso’s knowledge of the canon of classical and Renaissance literature, allowing him to fashion himself as a miles doctus, a learned soldier, and to contribute to military science in Stuart England. Cruso’s great nephew, Timothy, studied with Daniel Defoe at the Dissenters’ Academy in Newington Green, London, and thus inspired the name of Defoe’s great literary creation, Robinson Crusoe.
Cruso’s parents, Jan and Jane, left Flanders in the years after the Iconoclastic Fury and Alva’s Council of Troubles. They arrived in Norwich, which already had a thriving Stranger community and Jan worked as a textile merchant.
Their eldest son, John, received a classical humanist education at Norwich free grammar school, which he would draw on in his published verse and prose. He became a freeman and took over running the family hosiery and cloth business from his father. In 1622, he published his first verse, a Dutch elegy. This appeared in a collection of Latin and Dutch elegies to the late minister of the London Dutch church, Simeon Ruytinck. It included verses by Constantijn Huygens and Jacob Cats and is arguably the most important Anglo-Dutch literary moment in the seventeenth century. In the late 1620s, Cruso wrote three English elegies, including one sonnet, on the late minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Lawrence Howlett. He was also the subject of an English verse by the Norfolk prelate and poet, Ralph Knevet.
Between 1632 and 1644, Cruso published several military works. In 1632, he published Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie, which was the first book published in England devoted solely to the cavalry. This was republished in 1644. In 1639 and 1640, Cruso published his English translations of two French military works, one of which was re-published in 1642. In the same year, as the opening shots in the First English Civil War were being fired, he published two military handbooks on the construction of military camps and the order of watches. He also had time, it seems, to publish two Dutch verses, an elegy to Johannes Elison, the late minister of the Dutch church in Norwich and an amplificatio on Psalm 8. His final publication, in 1655, was a collection of 221 Dutch epigrams, printed in quarto by Arnold Bon in Delft.
John Cruso, Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie (Cambridge, 1632) 717.m.18
John Cruso, Castrametation, or the Measuring out of the quarters for the encamping of an army (London, 1642) 1398.b.7.
Most of Cruso’s works are in the British Library. A copy of the epigram collection, EPIGRAMMATA Ofte Winter-Avondts Tyt-korting (‘Epigrams or Pastimes for a Winter’s Evening’), shelfmark 11555.e.42.(4.), is the only known copy of this work.
Title page of I. C., Epigrammata, ofte Winter Avondts Tyt-korting (Delft, 1655) 11555.e.442 (4).
On the title page, Cruso uses his initials, I.C. In this copy someone has made C into O with a pen. Beneath the title are two lines from the Roman epigrammatist, Martial, which hint at the scabrous nature of some of the verses: ‘Non intret Cato theatrum meum: aut si intraverit, spectet’ (‘Do not let Cato enter my theatre: or if he does enter, let him look’), and ‘Innocuos permitte sales: cur ludere nobis non liceat?’ (‘Allow harmless jests: why should we not be allowed to joke?’). Many of Cruso’s Dutch epigrams are like Latin epigrams written by Sir Thomas More, and Cruso may have been inspired by some of these. One example is Epigram 94:
Vergeefs ghy voor u Huys een Sonne-wijser stelt;
Want gaapt maar, en men stracx aan uwe Tanden telt
De Uyren van den Dach. De Son dat wijst gewis
End uwen langen Neus den besten Gnomon is.
(On someone with an extremely large nose.
In vain, you place a sundial in front of your house;
For just open your mouth and people will be able to
Count the hours of the day by your teeth. And the sun shows
That for sure your long nose is the best style (gnomon) for the sundial.)
We know little about the reception of this collection, but the fact that the British Library has the only extant copy is one example of the importance of the Library to modern scholarship.
Christopher Joby, Adam Mickiewicz University
Christopher Joby is Professor in Dutch Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, and Visiting Scholar at the Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan. His research focusses on the intersection of the Dutch language and culture and other languages and cultures in a historical context. His latest book is John Cruso of Norwich and Anglo-Dutch literary identity in the seventeenth century (Cambridge: D S Brewer, 2022) DRT ELD.DS.659151 (non-print legal deposit)