Anthony Bacon to his mother, Lady Bacon
18 July, 1593Our most honorable and kind friend the Earl of Essex was here yesterday three hours, and hath most friendly and freely promised to set up, as they say, his whole rest of favour and credit for my brother‘s preferment before Mr. Cooke. . . . His Lordship told me likewise that he hath already moved the Queen for my brother.
Bowen then writes: “To set up a rest’ meant to build a platform from which to shoot one’s heavy cannon. (‘The Spaniard hath set up his rest for England,’ Robert Cecil said in Parliament.)” But is this the correct explanation? The OED has, s.v. rest 1 (“repose or relief from daily activity”), 11.a., “A support for a fire-arm, employed in steadying the barrel to ensure accuracy of aim, esp. that used for the old heavy musket, which was forked at the upper end, and provided with a spike to fix it in the ground.” But this says nothing about heavy cannon, and has no quotes involving a phrase “set up one’s rest.”
However, under rest 2 (“”that which remains over; a remainder or remnant”) we find sense 6, “In primero, the stakes kept in reserve, the loss of which terminated the game; the venture of such stakes.” After several citations, there follows the phrase “to set (up) one’s rest, to venture one’s final stake or reserve” (e.g., c. 1597 “The kinge, 55 eldest hand, set up all restes”), and then (as a separate sense of the noun) “7. To set (up) one’s rest, in fig. uses … a. To stake, hazard, or venture one’s all on or upon something; to set one’s final hope or trust upon or in something” (1587 “we set our rest on the hazard”; 1599 “to set upp his rest upon these men”; 1635 “set up her rest in hope of England”). It seems clear that Bowen misunderstood the phrase; let this serve as a reminder to us all not to set our rest on an apparently satisfactory explanation but to make sure it is steadied by a secure rest.