In Philotimus (1583), the following passage appears on page 38:

Among all forts of conceyted fellowes, I reuerence the Esseni∣ans, as most cōtinent in pleasures, & contented wt nifles, for they abhor ye company of women, & detest ye possession of gold & siluer. Thus Venus is wanton and euer is wanting, treasure is tickle, and a iuell of ieopardy, mariage marrs all, if it be out of season.

Which is basically:

Thus Venus is wanton and ever is wanting, treasure is tickle, and a jewel of jeopardy, marriage mars all, if it be out of season.

And here's the original text:

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What does 'treasure is tickle' mean here?

I’ve found enough through my own research that I have at least a guess at it, which I’ll post as an answer, but I’m sure someone else might find more examples or have a more definitive/better theory as to what this could mean, and they should feel free to add it.

My first theory was that ‘tickle’ was a mistranscription of ‘fickle.’ This makes a bit of sense, as saying that fortune is fickle is a sentiment that many intellectuals enjoy espousing. But I can’t find that error repeated anywhere else in the text, and besides, all the other online versions I found have that same spelling. Even the original text isn't really that helpful in that respect in disambiguating this.

(It also seems to be a proverb, as it’s included here)

  • Not labeling it a typo, or an F that looks like a T, but the author is saying that treasure is fickle. Just saying. Jun 7 at 13:07

2 Answers 2


Tickle means fickle:

tickle, adj. (and adv.)
Forms: see the verb; also Middle English tikil, tikul, tekil, Middle English tekyl, tekel, tykell, 1500s tyckyll, 1500s–1600s tickell, 1700s dialect tikkle

5. Not to be depended upon; uncertain (in fact, action, duration, etc.); unreliable; changeable, inconstant, capricious, fickle, ‘kittle’. Now dialect.
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

Here’s an example usage from the OED in your timeframe:

1566    W. PAINTER Palace of Pleasure I. xiii. f. 36    Holde faste thy fortune, for she is tickle and can not bee holden against her will.

  • Of course the OED would have it. Thanks. Jun 7 at 15:10

My own theory:

This snippet juxtaposes a similar construction “Tickell treasure,” and this turns out to be part of a fairly well-known poem, Brittle Beauty (16th century):

Brittle beauty, that Nature made so frail,
Whereof the gift is small, and short the season;
Flowering to-day, to-morrow apt to fail
Tickle treasure, abhorred of reason :
Dangerous to deal with, vain, of none avail
Costly in keeping, past not worth two peason
Slipper in sliding, as is an eel's tail
Hard to obtain, once gotten, not geason
Jewel of jeopardy, that peril doth assail
False and untrue, enticed oft to treason
Enemy to youth, that most may I bewail
Ah ! bitter sweet, infecting as the poison
Thou farest as fruit that with the frost is taken ;
To-day ready ripe, tomorrow all to-shaken.

The Folk-Speak of South Cheshire, 1887, contains a dictionary compiled by Thomas Darlington, which says that ‘tickle’ used to mean “sensitive, used of balances.” It quotes Gascoigne, 1577:

Vayne is the rest, and that most vayne of all,
A smouldring smoke which flieth with every winde,
A tickell treasure, like a trendlyng ball,
A passing pleasure mocking but the minde,
A fickle fee as fansie well can finde.
A sommers fruite whiche long can never last,
But ripeneth soone, and rottes againe as fast.

The line "slipper in sliding, as is an eel's tail" in the first poem, and the proximity to "fickle" in the second one both seem to imply a sense of treasure having a volatile nature, but I can't be sure that this is indeed the authors' intention.

So: Perhaps treasure is tickle means 'treasure/fortune is capricious and unpredictable'.

It's the best guess that I've got.

  • 1
    From onelook.com, Webster's 1828 dictionary, an adjective sense that fits: webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/tickle TICK'LE, adjective Tottering; wavering, or liable to waver and fall at the slightest touch; unstable; easily overthrown. (sense marked as wholly obsolete in 1828.) Jun 7 at 4:08

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