The First Book of the Introduction of Knowledge


Andrew Borde’s The First Book of the Introduction of Knowledge (1547) describes the customs and manners of various nations, from the English and their neighbors to the Moors, the Turks, the Egyptians, and the Jews. Borde was a doctor and the author of books on medicine and on astronomy, and it seems the Introduction of Knowledge (written 1542, published 1547) was intended to focus mainly on physic, but only the first book, on the peoples of Europe and the Mediterranean, saw the light. For each nation Borde provides a satirical description in verse and a few phrases in the local language. The first woodcut in the book shows an Englishman standing naked and holding tailor’s scissors, trying to decide which new fashion to follow: “I am an English man, and naked I stand here / Musing in my mind what raiment I shall wear. . . .” In the verses that follow England is praised for its power and wealth, while the people’s inconstancy is condemned: I do fear no man, all men feareth me; I overcome my adversaries by land and by sea; I had no peer, if to myself I were true;Because I am not so, divers times do I rue. Yet I lack nothing, I have all things at will; If I were wise, and would hold myself still, And meddle with no matters not to me pertaining, But ever to be true to God and my king. The Royal Collection Trust – art history early modern art medieval England 1700s bust of a Moor. (Picture to the Left)




The passage below describes the Moors. Although the English in the sixteenth century most often associated black with ugliness and evil, such associations could be challenged or surprisingly reversed, as in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 127 (NAEL 8, 1.1073), “In the old age black was not counted fair.” [The Moors Which Do Dwell in Barbary] I am a black Moor born in Barbary; Christian men for money oft doth me buy. “


“If I be unchristened, merchants do not care, They buy me in markets, be I never so bare. Yet will I be a good diligent slave, Although I do stand in stead of a knave. I do gather figs, and with some I wipe my tail: To be angry with me, what shall it avail? Barbary is a great country, and plentiful of fruit, wine, and corn. The inhabitors be called the Moors. There be white Moors and black Moors. They be infidels and unchristened. There be many Moors brought into Christendom, into great cities and towns, to be sold. And Christian men do buy them, and they will be diligent, and will do all manner of service. But they be set most commonly to vile things. They be called slaves. They do gather grapes and figs, and with some of the figs they will wipe their tail, and put them in the frail. >> note 2 They have great lips, and knotted hair, black and curled. Their skin is soft, and there is nothing white but their teeth and the white of the eye. When a merchant or any other man do buy them, they be not all of one price, for some be better cheap than some; they be sold after as they can work and do their business. When they do die, they be cast into the water, or on a dunghill, that dogs and pies >> note 3 and crows may eat them, except some of them that be christened: they be buried. They do keep much of Mohammed’s law, as the Turks do. They have now a great captain called Barbarossa >> note 4 which is a great warrior. They doth harm, divers times, to the Genoese, and to Provence and Languedoc, and other countries that do border on them, and for they will come over the straits, steal pigs, and geese, and other things. Whoso will speak any Moorish, >> note 5 English and Moorish doth follow.

One. two. three. four. five. six. seven.
Wada. attennin. talate. orba. camata. sette. saba.
eight. nine. ten. eleven. twelve. thirteen.
camene. tessa. asshera. habasshe. atanasshe. telatasshe.
fourteen. fifteen. sixteen. seventeen.
arbatasshe. camatasshe. setatasshe. sabatashe.
eighteen. nineteen. twenty. one and twenty, etc.
tematasshe. tyssatasshe. essherte. wahadaessherte, etc.

Good morrow.
Give me some bread and milk and cheese.
Atteyne gobbis, leben, iuben.
Give me wine, water, flesh, fish, and eggs.
Atteyne nebet, moy, laghe, semek, beyet.
Much good do it you.
You be welcome.
I thank you.
Erthar lake heracke.
Good night.


Read Moor: The First Book of the Introduction of Knowledge