A good companion for a Christian (1632)

A good companion for a Christian was published posthumously in 1632 by John Norden’s son (probably John Norden Jr, although it could have been Josias). He states this in his dedicatory epistle to the Baron of Dondaulk, noting that ‘my deceased Father very often surveyed the Kings lands, but now by me he humbly tenders himself to be surveyed by you’. Indeed, John Norden had been mostly known for his work as a cartographer and surveyor, but, as his ODNB biographer has noted, in times when work was scarce publishing devotional works helped to bring in some extra money (his biographer, Frank Kitchen is, however, quick to stress that Norden’s publications were also a reflection of his religious devotion).

This text was only printed the once and was advertised as a series of meditations and prayers ‘for every day in the weeke’ relating to preparation for death. Norden’s son claimed that his father had produced the treatise and left it with his children:

‘to assure us, and al men that himselfe chiefly studied and shaped his courses so to dye that he might never dye, & that he prepared himselfe so to depart fro[m] the earth, that when he did leave the Earth he had no other business but to leave the Earth, for his actions were but an example of his precepts’.  

The treatise is divided up by sections on each of the senses, examining first the body, then the tongue, eyes, ears, taste, smell, touch, and heart, with chapters on interestingly sub-titled subjects such as;

  • Signs that a mans house, body and soul are out of order
  • If the heart be good the words cannot be evil
  • Above all seek the illumination of the inward eye
  • The taste hath devoured many
  • The feet are necessary member: yet often used to sin

These sections are then followed by a long list of prayers for each day (morning and evening) and for specific purposes such as before a Sermon, or for specific persons, such as ‘a short prayer for a woman with child’.

References to Bees

Norden refers to Bees twice in this treatise. The first is an example of perfection in the sense of taste. Norden argues that God in his ‘wisedome and goodnesse’ created both man and beast with five senses and that in some creatures he gave them perfection in a particular sense; the Eagle has perfect hearing, the Dog has a perfect sense of smell, the spider excels at touching things, and Bees in tasting. Norden goes on to explain that only man has ‘reason’, but that other creatures do come close in understanding ‘exquisite Art’. He asks, what man can build a spider’s net? What man can form honeycomb? Who can make the nest of a Wren?  These examples show, Norden believed, that God gave many creatures some level of knowledge and capability, which in certain ways exceeds that of man.

The second reference appears in a chapter entitled ‘The best heart hath some feelings of evill motions’. Here, Norden discusses sin. He suggests that sin is a subtle ‘prompter’ and ‘deceiveth the heart not well instructed’, but that a heart with whom ‘the Spirit of God hath sanctified’ can recognise the deception and dislikes the ‘sundry motions which intrude themselves as it were, by stealth into it’. Norden compares such a heart to Bees removing the drones from their hive: ‘to hurle them out of the hyve of the heart’. The description not only recognises the fact that drones are removed from the hive en-masse but also suggests that this is an act of removal of something sinful by the bees. This is interesting as it suggests knowledge that the drones do not forage or work and become a burden on the hive (much like sin can be on a soul).

References to Honey

There is only one reference to honey in A good companion for a Christian. Norden refers to it when describing ‘taste’. He suggests that humans should use their ability to taste for the purpose ‘that God hath given it’, meaning to distinguish food and drink that is safe, from that which is dangerous. He refers to the difference between sweet and sour tastes, wholesome or unwholesome meats and drinks. To illustrate the point, Norden compares ‘hony from Gall’ noting that without taste ‘thou shouldst finde no difference of the relish of edible things, the most tainted and contagious would bee as pleasing unto thee, as the most salutary’.


Frank Kitchen, ‘Norden, John (c.1547-1625)’, ODNB (2004). DOI: 10.1093/ref:odnb/20250

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