The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume I Part 16

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[Footnote 5: Walton, p. 39, 41.]

[Footnote 6: Walton ut Supra, p. 46]

MICHAEL DRAYTON

A Renowned poet, who lived in the reigns of Elizabeth, James and Charles I. sprung from an ancient family, originally descended from the town of Drayton in Leicesters.h.i.+re,[1] but his parents removing into Warwicks.h.i.+re, he was born there, as he himself declares in his Poly-olbion, Song 13. A little village called Harsul in that county claims the honour of his birth, by which accident it is raised from obscurity; he was born in the year 1573, according to the most accurate computation that can be made from the dates of his works. When he was but very young he gave such discoveries of a rising genius as rendered him a favourite with his tutors, and procured him the patronage of persons of distinction. In the year 1573, being then but about ten years of age, he was page to some honourable person, as may be collected from his own words: In some of his epistles to Henry Reynold esquire, it appears that even then he could construe his Cato, and some other little collections of sentences, which made him very anxious to know, what sort of beings the poets were, and very pressing upon his tutor to make him, if possible, a poet. In consequence of this he was put to the reading of Virgil's Eclogues, and 'till even then, says one of his Biographers, he scorned any thing that looked like a ballad, though written by Elderton himself. This Elderton was a famous comedian in those days, and a facetious companion, who having a great readiness at rhiming, composed many catches on Love and Wine, which were then in great vogue among the giddy and volatile part of the town; but he was not more celebrated for drollery than drinking, so that he obtained the name of the baccha.n.a.lian buffoon, the red-nosed ballad-maker, &c. and at last by the excessive indulgence of his favourite vice, he fell a martyr to it 1592, and Mr. Camden has preserved this epitaph on him, which for its humour, I shall here give a place.

Dead drunk, here Elderton does lie; Dead as he is, he still is drie.

So of him it may well be said, Here he, but not his thirst, is laid.

If after this our author did not finish his education at the university of Cambridge, it is evident from the testimony of Sir Alton Cohain, his intimate friend, who mentions him in his Choice Poems of several Sorts, that he was for some time a student at Oxford; however, he is not taken notice of by Wood, who has commemorated the most part of the writers who were educated there. In 1588 it appears from his poem, ent.i.tled Moses his Birth and Miracles, that he was a spectator at Dover of the Spanish invasion, which was arrogantly stiled Invincible, and it is not improbable that he was engaged in some military employment there, especially as we find some mention made of him, as being in esteem with the gentlemen of the army. He early addicted himself to the amus.e.m.e.nt of poetry, but all who have written of him, have been negligent in informing us how soon he favoured the public with any production of his own. He was distinguished as a poet about nine or ten years before the death of Queen Elizabeth, but at what time he began to publish cannot be ascertained. In the year 1593, when he was but 30 years of age, he published a collection of his Pastorals; likewise some of the most grave poems, and such as have transmitted his name to posterity with honour, not long after saw the light. His Baron's wars, and England's heroical Epistles; his Downfals of Robert of Normandy; Matilda and Gaveston, for which last he is called by one of his contemporaries, Tragdiographus, and part of his Polyolbion were written before the year 1598, for all which joined with his personal good character; he was highly celebrated at that time, not only for the elegance and sweetness of his expressions, but his actions and manners, which were uniformly virtuous and honourable; he was thus characterised not only by the poet; and florid writers of those days, but also by divines, historians, and other Scholars of the most serious turn and extensive learning. In his younger years he was much beloved and patronized by Sir Walter Aston of Tixhall in Staffords.h.i.+re, to whom for his kind protection, he gratefully dedicates many of his poems, whereof his Barons Wars was the first, in the spring of his acquaintance, as Drayton himself expresses it; but however, it may be gathered from his works, that his most early dependance was upon another patron, namely, Sir Henry Goodere of Polesworth, in his own county, to whom he has been grateful for a great part of his education, and by whom he was recommended to the patronage of the countess of Bedford: it is no less plain from many of his dedications to Sir Walter Ashton, that he was for many years supported by him, and accommodated with such supplies as afforded him leisure to finish some of his most elaborate compositions; and the author of the Biographia Britannica has told us, 'that it has been alledged, that he was by the interest of the same gentleman with Sir Roger Ashton, one of the Bedchamber to King James in his minority, made in some measure ministerial to an intercourse of correspondence between the young King of of Scots and Queen Elizabeth:' but as no authority is produced to prove this, it is probably without foundation, as poets have seldom inclination, activity or steadiness to manage any state affairs, particularly a point of so delicate a nature.

Our author certainly had fair prospects, from his services, or other testimonies of early attachment to the King's interest, of some preferment, besides he had written Sonnets, in praise of the King as a poet. Thus we see Drayton descending to servile flattery to promote his interest, and praising a man as a poet contrary to his own judgment, because he was a King who was as devoid of poetry as courage.

He welcomed his Majesty to his British dominions with a congratulatory poem printed in 4to, 1603. The same year he was chosen by Sir Walter Aston one of the esquires who attended him, when he was with others created knight of the Bath at the coronation of his Majesty. It no where appears, that ever our author printed those poems in praise of his Majesty; and the ungrateful reception they met, as well as the disagreeable experience of the universal degeneracy at court, so different from that of the Maiden Reign, might extinguish all hope of raising himself there.

In the year 1613 he published the first part of his Poly-olbion. It is a chorographical description of the rivers, mountains, forests, castles; &c. in this Island, intermixed with the remarkable antiquities, rarities, commodities, &c. This part is addressed to Prince Henry, the promising son of James I. by whose encouragement it was written. He had shewed Drayton some singular marks of his favour, and seems to have admitted him as one of his poetical pensioners, but dying before the book was finished, he lost the benefit of his patronage. In this volume there are eighteen songs, ill.u.s.trated with the notes of the learned Mr. Selden, and there are maps before every song, whereby the cities, mountains, forests, rivers, &c. are represented by the figures of men and women. It is interwoven with many episodes, such as the conquest of this Island by the Romans, the arrival of the Saxons, the Danes and Normans, &c. And bishop Nicholson observes, that Poly-olbion affords a much more accurate account of this kingdom and the Dominion of Wales than could have been expected from the pen of a poet. How poetically our author has conducted and executed his plan, is admirably expressed by the ingenious Dr. James Kirkpatrick, in a beautiful poem of his called the Sea-Piece. Canto II. which I cannot here omit transcribing.

Drayton, sweet ancient bard, his Albion sung, With their own praise, their ecchoing vallies rung; His bounding muse o'er every mountain rode, And ev'ry river warbled where he flow'd.

In 1619 came out his first folio-volume of poems. In 1622 the second part of his Poly-olbion was published, making in all thirty books or songs. In 1622 we find him stiled Poet Laureat: It is probable this appellation of Poet Laureat was not confined and restricted as it is now to his Majesty's Servant known by that t.i.tle, who at that time it is presumed was Ben Johnson, because it was bestowed promiscuously as a mark of any poet's excellency in his profession.

In 1627 was published the second volume of his poems, containing the battle of Agencourt, in stanzas of eight lines. The mysteries of Queen Margaret in the like stanzas. Nymphidia, or the Court of Faeries. The Quest of Cynthia, another beautiful piece, both reprinted in Dryden's Miscellanies. The Shepherd's Sirena; also the Moon Calf; Satire on the Masculine Affectations of Women, and the the effeminate disguises of the Men, in those times. Elegies upon several occasions. These are introduced by the vision of Ben Johnson on the Muse of his friend Michael Drayton, wherein he very particularly enumerates and praises his several compositions. In 1630 he published another volume of poems in 4to, int.i.tled the Muses Elizium, in ten sundry Nymphals, with three different poems on Noah's flood; Moses his birth and miracles, and David and Goliath. The pastoral poems are addressed to Edward Sackville Earl of Dorset, and Lord Chamberlain, who had now made him one of his family. His divine poems are written in verse and various measures, and are dedicated to the Countess of Dorset; and there are some sublime images in them. At the end of the first divine poem, there are copies of verses in praise of the author, by Bcal Sapperton, in Latin; Mr. John Fletcher, and Thomas Andrews in English; the last of whom is very lavish in displaying the great extent of our poet's fame.

In 1631 Mr. Drayton died, or as it is expressed in his monumental inscription, exchanged his laurel for a crown of glory. He was buried among the poets in Westminster-Abbey, and the handsome table monument of blue marble which was raised over his grave the same year, is adorned with his effigies in busto, laureated. On one side is a crest of Minerva's cap, and Pegasus in a scutcheon on the other. Sir Aston c.o.kain composed an elegy upon him: and Ben Johnson is said to have been the author of his epitaph, which is written in letters of gold upon his monument, with which I shall here present the reader.

EPITAPH.

Do pious marble let thy readers know What they, and what their children owe To Drayton's name, whose sacred dust We recommend unto thy trust: Protect his memory, and preserve his story, Remain a lasting monument of his glory; And when thy ruins shall disclaim, To be the treasure of his name; His name, that cannot fade shall be, An everlasting monument to thee.

Mr. Drayton enjoyed the friends.h.i.+p and admiration of contemporary wits, and Ben Johnson who was not much disposed to praise, entertained a high opinion of him, and in this epitaph has both immortalized himself and his friend. It is easy for those who are conversant with our author's works to see how much the moderns and even Mr. Pope himself copy Mr. Drayton, and refine upon him in those distinctions which are esteemed the most delicate improvements of our English versification, such as the turns, the pauses, the elegant tautologies, &c. It is not difficult to point out some depredations which have been made on our author by modern writers, however obsolete some of them may have reckoned him. In one of his heroical epistles, that of King John to Matilda, he has the following lines.

Th' Arabian bird which never is but one, Is only chast because she is alone, But had our mother nature made them two, They would have done, as Doves and Sparrows do.

These are ascribed to the Earl of Rochester, who was unexceptionably a great wit. They are not otherwise materially altered, than by the transposure of the rhimes in the first couplet, and the retrenchment of the measure in both. As the sphere in which this author moved was of the middle sort, neither raised to such eminence as to incur danger, nor so deprest with poverty as to be subject to meanness, his life seems to have flowed with great tranquility; nor are there any of those vicissitudes and distresses which have so frequently fallen to the lot of the inspired tribe. He was honoured with the patronage of men of worth, tho' not of the highest stations; and that author cannot be called a mean one, on whom so great a man as Selden (in many respects the most finished scholar that ever appeared in our nation) was pleased to animadvert. His genius seems to have been of the second rate, much beneath Spencer and Sidney, Shakespear and Johnson, but highly removed above the ordinary run of versifyers. We shall quote a few lines from his Poly-olbion as a specimen of his poetry.

When he speaks of his native county, Warwicks.h.i.+re, he has the following lines;

Upon the mid-lands now, th' industrious Muse doth fall, That s.h.i.+re which we the heart of England well may call, As she herself extends the midst (which is decreed) Betwixt St. Michael's Mount, and Berwick bordering Tweed, Brave Warwick, that abroad so long advanc'd her Bear, By her ill.u.s.trious Earls, renowned every where, Above her neighbr'ing s.h.i.+res which always bore her head.

[Footnote 1: Burton's Description of Leicesters.h.i.+re, p. 16, 22]

Dr. RICHARD CORBET, Bishop of NORWICH,

Was son of Mr. Vincent Corbet, and born at Ewelb in Surry, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He was educated at Westminster school, and from thence was sent to Oxford, 1597, where he was admitted a student in Christ-church. In 1605, being then esteemed one of the greatest wits of the University, he took the degree of Master of Arts, and afterwards entering into holy orders, he became a popular preacher, and much admired by people of taste and learning. His s.h.i.+ning wit, and remarkable eloquence recommended him to King James I, who made him one of his chaplains in ordinary, and in 1620 promoted him to the deanery of Christ's-church; about which time he was made doctor of divinity, vicar of Ca.s.sington, near Woodstock, in Oxfords.h.i.+re, and prebendary of Bedminster-secunda, in the church of Sarum.[1]

While he was dean of Christ's church, he made verses on a play acted before the King at Woodstock, called Technogamia, or the marriage of Arts, written by Barten Holiday the poet, who afterwards translated Juvenal. The ill-success it met with in the representation occasioned several copies of verses, among which, to use Anthony Wood's words, "Corbet dean of Christ's-church put in for one, who had that day it seems preached before the King, with his band starched clean, for which he was reproved by the graver sort; but those who knew him well took no notice of it, for they have several times said, that he loved to the last boy's play very well." He was elected, 1629, Bishop of Oxford, in the room of Dr. Hewson, translated to the See of Durham. Upon the promotion of Dr. White to Ely he was elected bishop of Norwich.

This prelate married Alice, daughter of Dr. Leonard Hutton, vicar of Flower in Northamptons.h.i.+re, and he mentions that village in a poem of his called Iter Boreale, or a Journey Northward. Our author was in that celebrated cla.s.s of poets, Ben Johnson, Dr. Donne, Michael Drayton, and others, who wrote mock commendatory verses on Tom Coryate's [2] Crudities. He concurred likewise with other poets of the university in inviting Ben Johnson to Oxford, where he was created Master of Arts. There is extant in the Musaeum Ashmoleanum, a funeral oration in Latin, by Dr. Corbet, on the death of Prince Henry, Anno Dom. 1612;[3] This great man died in the year 1635, and was buried the upper-end of the choir of the cathedral church of Norwich.

He was very hospitable and a generous encourager of all public designs. When in the year 1634 St. Paul's cathedral was repaired, he not only contributed himself, but was very diligent in procuring contributions from others. His works are difficult to be met with, but from such of his poems as we have had occasion to read, he seems to have been a witty, delicate writer, and to have had a particular talent for panegyric. Wood says, a collection of his poems was published under the t.i.tle of Poetica Stromata, in 8vo. London 1647. In his Iter Boreale, or Journey Northward, we meet with a fine moral reflexion on the burial place of Richard III. and Cardinal Wolsey, who were both interred at Leicester; with which we shall present the reader as a specimen of his poetry.

Is not usurping Richard buried here, That King of hate, and therefore slave of fear?

Dragg'd from the fatal Bosworth field where he, Lost life, and what he liv'd for,-Cruelty: Search, find his name, but there is none: O Kings, Remember whence your power and vastness springs; If not as Richard now, so may you be, Who hath no tomb, but scorn and memory.

And tho' from his own store, Wolsey might have A Palace or a College for his grave, Yet here he lies interred, as if that all Of him to be remembered were his fall.

Nothing but Earth on Earth, no pompous weight Upon him, but a pebble or a quoit.

If thou art thus neglected, what shall we, Hope after death, that are but shreds of thee!

The author of the Biographia Britanica tells us, that he found in a blank leaf of his poems, some ma.n.u.script verses, in honour of Bishop Corbet signed J.C. with which, as they are extremely pretty, and make a just representation of his poetical character, we shall conclude this life.

In flowing wit, if verses writ with ease, If learning void of pedantry can please, If much good humour joined to solid sense, And mirth accompanied with innocence, Can give a poet a just right to fame, Then Corbet may immortal honour claim; For he these virtues had, and in his lines, Poetic and heroic spirit s.h.i.+nes; Tho' bright yet solid, pleasant, but not rude, With wit and wisdom equally endued.

Be silent Muse, thy praises are too faint, Thou want'st a power this prodigy to paint, At once a poet, prelate, and a saint.

[Footnote 1: Athen. Oxon. vol. I. col. 600-I.]

[Footnote 2: Winstanley.]

[Footnote 3: Wood. ubi. supra. fol. 509.]

EDWARD FAIRFAX.

All the biographers of the poets have been extremely negligent with respect to this great genius. Philips so far overlooks him, that he crowds him into his supplement, and Winstanley, who followed him, postpones our author till after the Earl of Rochester. Sir Thomas Pope Blount makes no mention of him; and Mr. Jacob, so justly called the Blunderbus of Law, informs us he wrote in the time of Charles the first, tho' he dedicates his translation of Ta.s.so to Queen Elizabeth. All who mention him, do him the justice to allow he was an accomplished genius, but then it is in a way so cool and indifferent, as shews that they had never read his works, or were any way charmed with the melody of his verses. It was impossible Mr. Dryden could be so blind to our author's beauties; accordingly we find him introducing Spencer and Fairfax almost on the level, as the leading authors of their times; nay tacitly yielding the palm in point of harmony to the last; by a.s.serting that Waller confessed he owed the music of his numbers to Fairfax's G.o.dfrey of Bulloign. The truth is, this gentleman is perhaps the only writer down to Sir William Davenant, who needs no apology to be made for him, on account of the age in which he lived. His diction is so pure, elegant, and full of graces, and the turn of his lines so perfectly melodious, that one cannot read it without rapture; and we can scarcely imagine the original Italian has greatly the advantage in either, nor is it very probable that while Fairfax can be read, any author will attempt a new translation of Ta.s.so with success. Mr. Fairfax was natural son of Sir Thomas Fairfax of Denton, and natural brother to Sir Thomas Fairfax, the first who was created Baron of Cameron. His younger brother was knighted, and slain at the memorable siege of Ostend, 1601, of which place he was some time governor[1]. When he married is not on record, or in what circ.u.mstances he lived: But it is very probable, his father took care to support him in a manner suitable to his own quality, and his son's extraordinary merit, he being always stiled Edward Fairfax, Esq; of Newhall in Fuystone, in the forest of Knaresborough. The year in which he died is likewise uncertain, and the last account we hear of him is, that he was living in 1631, which shews, that he was then pretty well advanced in years, and as I suppose gave occasion to the many mistakes that have been made as to the time of his writing. Besides the translation of G.o.dfrey of Bulloigne, Mr. Fairfax wrote the history of Edward the Black Prince, and certain eclogues, which Mrs. Cooper tells us are yet in ma.n.u.script, tho' (says she) "by the indulgence of the family, from whom I had likewise the honour of these memoirs, I am permitted to oblige the world with a specimen of their beauties." He wrote also a book called, Daemonologie, in which he shews a great deal of ancient reading and knowledge; it is still in ma.n.u.script, and in the beginning he gives this character of himself[2]. "I am in religion neither a fantastic Puritan, nor superst.i.tious Papist, but so settled in conscience, that I have the sure ground of G.o.d's word to warrant all I believe, and the commendable ordinances of our English Church, to approve all I practise; In which course I live a faithful Christian, and an obedient, and so teach my family." The eclogues already mentioned are twelve in number, all of them written after the accession of King James to the throne of England, on important subjects, relating to the manners, characters, and incidents of the times he lived in: they are pointed with many fine strokes of satire, dignified with n.o.ble instructions of morality, and policy, to those of the highest rank, and some modest hints to Majesty itself. The learning contained in these eclogues is so various and extensive, lhat according to the opinion of his son, who has written long annotations on each, no man's reading besides his own was sufficient to explain his references effectually. As his translation of Ta.s.so is in every body's hand, we shall take the specimen from the fourth eclogue, called Eglon and Alexis, as I find it in Mrs. Cooper's collection.

EGLON and ALEXIS.

Whilst on the rough, and heath-strew'd wilderness His tender flocks the rasps, and bramble crop, Poor shepherd Eglon, full of sad distress!

By the small stream, fat on a mole-hill top: Crowned with a wreath of Heban branches broke: Whom good Alexis found, and thus bespoke.

ALEXIS.

My friend, what means this silent lamentation?

Why on this field of mirth, this realm of smiles Doth the fierce war of grief make such invasion?

Witty Timanthes[3] had he seen, e're whiles, What face of woe thy cheek of sadness bears, He had not curtained Agamemnon's tears.

The black ox treads not yet upon thy toe, Nor thy good fortune turns her wheel awaye; Thy flocks increase, and thou increasest so, Thy straggling goates now mild, and gentlely; And that fool love thou whipst away with rods; Then what sets thee, and joy so far at odds?

[Footnote 1: Muses Library, p. 343.]

[Footnote 2: Muses Library, p. 344.]

[Footnote 3: Timanthes the painter, who designing the sacrifice of Iphigenia, threw a veil over the face of Agamemnon, not able to express a father's anguish.]

THOMAS RANDOLPH,

A Poet of no mean genius, was born at Newnham, near Daintry in Northamptons.h.i.+re, the 15th of June, 1605; he was son of William Randolph of Hams, near Lewes in Suss.e.x, was educated at Westminster school, and went from thence to Trinity College in Cambridge, 1623, of which he became a fellow; he commenced Master of Arts, and in this degree was incorporated at Oxon[1], became famous (says Wood) for his ingenuity, being the adopted son of Ben Johnson, and accounted one of the most pregnant wits of his age. The quickness of his parts was discovered early; when he was about nine or ten years old he wrote the History of the Incarnation of Our Saviour in verse, which is preserved in ma.n.u.script under his own hand writing. Randolph receives from Langbaine the highest encomium. He tells his readers that they need expect no discoveries of thefts, for this author had no occasion to practice plagiary, having so large a fund of wit of his own, that he needed not to borrow from others. Were a foreigner to form a notion of the merit of the English poets from reading Langbaine, they would be in raptures with Randolph and Durfey, and others of their cla.s.s, while Dryden, and the first-rate wits, would be quite neglected; Langbaine is so far generous, that he does all he can to draw obscure men into light, but then he cannot be acquitted of envy, for endeavouring to shade the l.u.s.tre of those whose genius has broke through obscurity without his means, and he does no service to his country while he confines his panegyric to mean versifiers, whom no body can read without a certain degree of contempt.

Our author had done nothing in life it seems worth preserving, or at least that cotemporary historians thought so, for there is little to be learned concerning him. Wood says he was like other poets, much addicted to libertine indulgence, and by being too free with his const.i.tution in the company of his admirers, and running into fas.h.i.+onable excesses, he was the means of shortening his own days. He died at little Haughton in Northamptons.h.i.+re, and was buried in an isle adjoining to the church in that place, on the 17th of March, 1634. He had soon after a monument of white marble, wreathed about with laurel, erected over his grave at the charge of lord Hatton of Kirby. Perhaps the greatest merit which this author has to plead, is his attachment to Ben Johnson, and admiration of him: Silius Italicus performed an annual visit to Virgil's tomb, and that circ.u.mstance reflects more honour upon him in the eyes of Virgil's admirers, than all the works of that author. Langbaine has preserved a monument of Randolph's friends.h.i.+p for Ben Johnson, in an ode he addressed to him, occasioned by Mr. Feltham's severe attack upon him, which is particularized in the life of Ben; from this ode we shall quote a stanza or two, before I give an account of his dramatic compositions.

Ben, do not leave the stage, 'Cause 'tis a loathsome age; For pride, and impudence will grow too bold, When they shall hear it told, They frighted thee; stand high as is thy cause, Their hiss is thy applause.

Most just were thy disdain, Had they approved thy vein: So thou for them, and they for thee were born; They to incense, and thou too much to scorn.

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume I Part 16

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