This line in Philotimus, specifically the word ‘herbycall’, has been perplexing me:

Herewithall she yelded breath. Great mourninges were ex∣cited in euery corner, and wofull Philotimus swounding thrée or foure times, could scarcely be relieued with life, who in time re∣couered a litle, compiled these herbycall verses, to bewaile his owne and his sisters piteous plight now left desolate.

In modern orthography, this is basically:

Herewithall she yielded breath. Great mournings were excited in every corner, and woeful Philotimus swounding three or four times, could scarcely be relieved with life, who in time recovered a little, compiled these herbycall verses, to bewail his own and his sisters' piteous plight now left desolate.

‘Herbycall’ doesn’t appear in any Google Books search, anywhere else in the book, or online, as far as I've found.

I can think of two possibilities, though neither of them seems particularly promising:

  • ‘herbycall’ is ‘herbical,’ which a few older books use as a synonym for ‘herbal.’ Doesn’t make sense, though.
  • ‘herbycall’ is a compound, probably either ‘her-by-call’ or ‘hereby-call.’ I assume that such compounds were common in those days (Philotimus is full of them, at least), but I still can’t think of what either of these could mean, especially in this context.

So does anyone else have any theory or insights as to what on earth ‘herbycall’ means?

(I can’t find a photo version of the original text, so I have no idea if this is a mistranscription)

  • 1
    The nearby use of 'Herewithall' probably points to your second theory, with herewith part of the compound. Apr 18, 2023 at 16:32
  • 4
    Could it be a mis-reading of 'heroicall'? Apr 18, 2023 at 16:48
  • 1
    Are these verses referred to elsewhere in the text?
    – alphabet
    Apr 18, 2023 at 18:26
  • @alphabet - no, they aren't. (can't find them anywhere else online, either) Apr 18, 2023 at 18:57
  • 1
    @Heartspring I'm wondering if the following few sentences ("When roote is old...protector") might be the verses in question (they're almost metrical and certainly poetic). "Herbycall" then might mean something like "following."
    – alphabet
    Apr 18, 2023 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


I suspect that "heroycall" (in modern English "heroical") was meant (as Kate Bunting proposed in a comment above), with the "o" simply miswritten as "b". This could have meant "having to do with heroism" but more likely referred to "heroic verse". I couldn't find the following verses in your link, so I couldn't verify that they were actual written in heroic verse, but that term apparently had various definitions in late 16th century Britain (as it does today).

EDIT: Heartspring has found a scan of what is apparently the original hardcopy text:

enter image description here

The letter in question appears to be an "o" with some "static" that may have been mistaken for an ascender, either by a person or by OCR. One can see an actual "b" a few words later, in "bewaile".

  • 1
    I'd say you're right; I got access to the original text and it seems to be a scanning error. Here's a screenshot of that line. Here are the verses themselves, if you'd like to confirm. Apr 20, 2023 at 14:08
  • 1
    @Heartspring — Yes, and you can see a proper b just to the right in bewaile. Apr 20, 2023 at 14:41
  • 1
    @Heartspring Thank you! I've incorporated that into the answer. Apr 20, 2023 at 17:45

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