There are two main schools of thought about debt and debtors’ prisons. The first holds, not unreasonably, that if a chap is locked up in prison, how on earth can he earn the money he needs to pay you back?
The other school is equally reasonable. If when he was at liberty he made no attempt to pay you back but instead lived a life of obvious excess, then perhaps locking him somewhere unpleasant might encourage him to liquidate some of his capital.
As a poet and perpetually indigent I keep my own council lest I be accused of special pleading.
Still I was shocked when I was approached by a shifty looking gentleman as I walked along Ropewalk. He asked if I were Tallis Steelyard. On my replying, “Yes,” I was grabbed from behind by two unpleasantly muscular bailiffs and was frogmarched to the Houses of Licentiousness where I was bound over to indentured servitude until I’d paid of my debts. Frankly I was embarrassed. Ralbort Slane, purveyor of wines to the moderately discerning, had had me jailed for a debt of a merely thirty vintenars! Lancet Fordeck owed twenty golden alars when he was incarcerated; I’ve known painters and sculptors who’ve been jailed owing even more than that! How could I show my face in the company of my peers after being shown to owe so little?
Not only that but I had been willing to negotiate. Frankly his four vintenar per bottle wine wasn’t worth a quarter of that, but in the spirit of compromise I had been prepared to offer one vintenar per six bottles, purely as a way of opening negotiations.
For some reason this seemed to have provoked him to taking unreasonable actions, rather than coming back with a suggested figure of his own. I lament the loss of the give and take which used to make our lives bearable.
If you don’t know the Houses of Licentiousness, it is where indentured labourers sift through the eggs of shore clams in the great tanks, sorting male and female for immediate consumption or further growth. The work is wet and cold and the hours are long. The pay is low and were I to pass the next three months without eating, I might well pay off my debt.
Continue reading: Poet in Residence – Tallis Steelyard