Samuel Rowlands was a noted pamphleteer of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. His satirical and devotional works exemplify the development of popular literature in London during this time. Scholars agree that he was born in the 1570’s (possibly 1573) and died around 1630. He spent the duration of his life in London, and it has been conjectured that from 1600-1615 he worked for William White, and then George Loftus; both were booksellers who published Rowlands’ pamphlets (Gosse 11). It is unlikely that Rowlands attended university and it is thought that he kept close contact with the middle, and lower classes of London society. His writings suggest that he had a particular distaste for the theatre and for stories of courtly love, but was familiar enough with both to satirize them (Waage 228).
Rowlands was a prolific and versatile writer; indeed, he attempted almost every form of popular literature. Most of his works are comprised of descriptions of low London life, although he also devoted his efforts to more pious subjects. The works of contemporary pamphleteers, such as Robert Greene, Stephen Gossen, and Joseph Hall, were influential to Rowlands’ writing. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales appears to have been among the inspirations for Rowlands’ Tis Merrie when Gossips Meete (1602), which describes three women in a tavern drinking and exchanging stories, much as Chaucer’s pilgrims do at the beginning of their journey (Waage 228). Rowlands favoured the epigram and six-line stanza; however, he also published works in other forms, such as The Melancholie Knight (1615), a dramatic monologue about a knight with a physical disfigurement and associated melancholy.
The most famous of Rowlands’ works were A Merry Meeting; or tis Merry when Knaves Meet and The Letting of Humours Blood in the Head Vaine, both published in 1600. Heavily satirical in nature and humorously featuring crude behaviors, these works apparently struck a nerve with the authorities of the day. Twenty-nine booksellers were fined for buying copies of the manuscripts, and the originals were confiscated and burned publicly. Some copies of The Letting of Humours Blood survived, and it was republished in 1605, in an expurgated edition, under the new title Humours Ordinairie. No original copies of A Merry Meeting survived, but it was likely a source for at least two of Rowland’s future works: Tis Merrie When Gossips Meete (1602) and The Knave of Clubbes (1609) (Waage 228).
Heaven’s Glory, Seeke It. Earth’s Vanitie, Flye It. Hell’s
Horror, Fere It is a devotional work that demonstrates Christ’s redemptive
power in resolving worldly issues of morality. Published in 1628 by Michael
Sparke, a popular religious writer and printer, Heaven’s Glory
has been the subject of some scholarly debate, since some of its content reportedly
appears in Sparke’s Crumms of Comfort (1627). However, the prevailing
view is that the poetry in the work is indeed Rowlands’. The dedication
“To the Reader” is signed “Samuell Rowlands,” and the
poetry is written in Rowlands’ signature style, the six line stanza, containing
the “same fluid versification, and the same easy sensible mediocrity”
that characterizes Rowlands’ work (Gosse