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The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume I Part 13

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Alarm against Usurers, containing tried experiences against worldly abuses, London 1584.

History of Forbonius and Prisaeria, with Truth's Complaint over England.

Euphue's Golden Legacy.

The Wounds of a Civil War livelily set forth, in the true Tragedies of Marius and Sylla, London 1594.

Looking Gla.s.s for London and England, a Tragi-Comedy printed in 4to. London 1598, in an old black letter. In this play our author was a.s.sisted by Mr. Robert Green. The drama is founded upon holy writ, being the History of Jonah and the Ninevites, formed into a play. Mr. Langbain supposes they chose this subject, in imitation of others who had writ dramas on sacred themes long before them; as Ezekiel, a Jewish dramatic poet, writ the Deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt: Gregory n.a.z.ianzen, or as some say, Apollinarius of Laodicea, writ the Tragedy of Christ's Pa.s.sion; to these may be added

Hugo Grotius, Theodore Beza, Petavius, all of whom have built upon the foundation of sacred history.

Treatise on the Plague, containing the nature, signs, and accidents of the same, London 1603.

Treatise in Defence of Plays. This (says Wood) I have not yet seen, nor his pastoral songs and madrigals, of which he writ a considerable number.

He also translated into English, Josephus's History of the Antiquity of the Jews, London 1602. The works both moral and natural of Seneca, London 1614. This learned gentleman died in the year 1625, and had tributes paid to his memory by many of his cotemporary poets, who characterised him as a man of very considerable genius. Winstanley has preserved an amorous sonnet of his, which we shall here insert.

If I must die, O let me chuse my death: Suck out my soul with kisses, cruel maid!

In thy b.r.e.a.s.t.s crystal b.a.l.l.s, embalm my breath, Dole it all out in sighs, when I am laid; Thy lips on mine like cupping gla.s.ses clasp; Let our tongues meet, and strive as they would sting: Crush out my wind with one straight-girting grasp, Stabs on my heart keep time while thou dost sing.

Thy eyes like searing irons burn out mine; In thy fair tresses stifle me outright: Like Circe, change me to a loathsome swine, So I may live forever in thy sight.

Into heaven's joys can none profoundly see, Except that first they meditate on thee.

When our author wishes to be changed into a loathsome swine, so he might dwell in sight of his mistress, he should have considered, that however agreeable the metamorphosis might be to him, it could not be so to her, to look upon such a loathsome object.

[Footnote 1: Langbaine's Lives of the Poets.]

[Footnote 2: There is a coa.r.s.eness of dialogue, even in their genteelest characters, in comedy, that appears now almost unpardonable; one is almost inclined to think the language and manners of those times were not over-polite, this fault appears so frequent; nor is the great Shakespear entirely to be acquitted hereof.]

[Footnote 3: May not this be owing to envy? are not most wits jealous of their cotemporaries? how readily do we pay adoration to the dead? how slowly do we give even faint praise to the living? is it a wonder Beaumont and Fletcher were more praised and versified than Shakespear? were not inferior wits opposed, nay preferred, to Dryden while living? was not this the case of Addison and Pope, whose works (those authors being no more) will be read with admiration, and allowed the just pre-eminence, while the English tongue is understood.]

[Footnote 4: Preface to Fletcher's plays.]

Sir JOHN DAVIES

Was born at Chisgrove, in the parish of Tysbury in Wiltshire, being the son of a wealthy tanner of that place. At fifteen years of age he became a Commoner in Queen's-college, Oxford 1585, where having made great progress in academical learning, and taken the degree of Batchelor of arts, he removed to the Middle-Temple, and applying himself to the study of the common law, was called to the bar; but having a quarrel with one Richard Martyn, (afterwards recorder of London) he bastinadoed him in the Temple-hall at dinner-time, in presence of the whole a.s.sembly, for which contempt, he was immediately expelled, and retired again to Oxford to prosecute his studies, but did not resume the scholar's-gown. Upon this occasion he composed that excellent poem called Nosce Teipsum[1]. Afterwards by the favour of Thomas lord Ellesmere, keeper of the Great Seal, being reinstated in the Temple, he practised as a counsellor, and became a burgess in the Parliament held at Westminster 1601. Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth our author, with Lord Hunsdon, went into Scotland to congratulate King James on his succession to the English throne. Being introduced into his Majesty's presence, the King enquired of Lord Hunsdon, the names of the gentlemen who accompanied him, and when his lordship mentioned John Davies, the King presently asked whether he was Nosce Teipsum, and being answered he was, embraced him, and a.s.sured him of his favour. He was accordingly made Sollicitor, and a little after Attorney-general in Ireland, where in the year 1606, he was made one of his Majesty's serjeants at law, and Speaker of the House of Commons for that kingdom. In the year following, he received the honour of knighthood from the King at Whitehall. In 1612 he quitted the post of Attorney-general in Ireland, and was made one of his Majesty's English serjeants at law. He married Eleanor Touchet, youngest daughter of George lord Audley, by whom he had a son, an idiot who died young, and a daughter named Lucy, married to Ferdinand lord Hastings, and afterwards Earl of Huntingdon. His lady was a woman of very extraordinary character; she had, or rather pretended to have a spirit of prophecy, and her predictions received from a voice which she often heard, were generally wrapped up in dark and obscure expressions. It was commonly reported, that on the sunday before her husband's death, she was sitting at dinner with him, she suddenly burst into tears, whereupon he asking her the occasion, she answered, "Husband, these are your funeral tears," to which he replied, "Pray therefore spare your tears now, and I will be content that you shall laugh when I am dead." After Sir John's death she lived privately at Parston in Hertfordshire, and an account was published of her strange and wonderful prophecies in 1609. In 1626 Sir John was appointed lord chief justice of the King's-bench, but before the ceremony of his installation could be performed he died suddenly of an apoplexy in the fifty-seventh year of his age, and was buried in the church of St. Martin's in the Fields. He enjoyed the joint applauses of Camden, Ben Johnson, Sir John Harrington, Selden, Donne, and Corbet; these are great authorities in our author's favour, and I may fairly a.s.sert that no philosophical writers ever explained their ideas more clearly and familiarly in prose, or more harmoniously and beautifully in verse. There is a peculiar happiness in his similies being introduced more to ill.u.s.trate than adorn, which renders them as useful as entertaining, and distinguishes them from any other author.

In quality of a lawyer Sir John produced the following pieces:

1. A discovery of the true causes why Ireland was never entirely subdued until his Majesty's happy reign; printed in 4to. London 1612, dedicated to the King with this Latin verse only.

Principis est virtus maxima nosse suos.

2. A declaration of our sovereign lord the King, concerning the t.i.tle of his Majesty's son Charles, the prince and duke of Cornwall; London 1614.

His princ.i.p.al performance as a poet, is a Poem on the Original, Nature, and Immortality of the Soul, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. It was republished by Nahum Tate, 1714, addressed to the Earl of Dorset and Middles.e.x, who was a great admirer of our poet, and the editor gives it a very just and advantageous character. Without doubt it is the Nosce Teipsum so much admired by King James, printed 1519, and 1622, mentioned by Wood; to which were added by the same hand:

Hymns of Astrea in acrostic verse; and Orchestra, or a poem expressing the antiquity and excellency of dancing, in a dialogue between Penelope and one of her Woers, containing 131 stanzas unfinished. Mr.

Wood mentions also epigrams, and a translation of several of King David's Psalms, written by Sir John Davies, but never published.

NOSCE TEIPSUM.

Why did my parents send me to the schools, That I, with knowledge might enrich my mind, Since the desire to know first made men fools And did corrupt the root of all mankind.

For when G.o.d's hand, had written in the hearts, Of our first parents all the rules of good, So that their skill infus'd, surpa.s.s'd all arts, That ever were before or since the flood.

And when their reason's eye was sharp and clear, And (as an eagle can behold the sun) Cou'd have approach'd th' eternal light as near, As th' intellectual Angels could have done.

Even then, to them the spirit of lyes suggests, That they were blind because they saw not ill; And breath'd into their incorrupted b.r.e.a.s.t.s A curious wish, which did corrupt their will.

[Footnote 1: Muses library p. 332.]

THOMAS GOFF.

A Gentleman who flourished in the reign of King James I. He was born in Ess.e.x, towards the latter end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, about the year 1592. In his youth he was sent to Westminster-school, and at the age of eighteen, he was entered student of Christ's-college in Oxford[1]. Being an industrious scholar, says Langbaine, he arrived to be a good poet, a skilful orator, and an excellent preacher. In the year 1623 he was made batchelor of divinity, and preferred to a living in Surry called East-Clanden: there he married a wife who proved as great a plague to him as a shrew could be; she was a true Xantippe to our ecclesiastical Socrates, and gave him daily opportunities of puting his patience to the proof; and it is believed by some, that this domestic scourge shortened his days. He was buried at his own parish church at Clanden, the 27th of July, 1627. He writ several pieces on different subjects, amongst which are reckoned five plays. Careless Shepherdess, a Tragi-comedy, acted before the King and Queen at Salisbury court with great applause. Printed in 4to,1656, with an Alphabetical Catalogue of all such plays as ever were to that time published. 2. Courageous Turk, or Amurath I. a Tragedy, acted by the students of Christ-church in Oxford, printed in 8vo, London 1656. For the plot consult Knolles's History of the Turks. 3. Orcites, a Tragedy, acted by the students of Christ's-church in Oxford, printed in 8vo, London 1656. 4. Raging Turk, or Bajazet II. a tragedy acted by the students in Christ's-church in Oxford, printed in 8vo. London 1656. This play was written with the two foregoing tragedies, when the author was master of arts, and student of Christ's-church, but not printed till after his decease. 5. Selinus, Emperor of the Turks, a Tragedy, printed in 4to, London 1638. This play in all probability was never exhibited, because it is not divided into acts. The author calls this the first part; and in his conclusion, as he stiles it, or epilogue, he promises a second part, saying,

If this first part, gentles, do like you well; The second part shall greater murders tell.

The plot is founded on the Turkish history in the reign of Selinus I. Mr. Philips and Mr. Winstanley have ascribed a comedy to this author, called Cupid's Whirligig, tho' Democritus and Herac.l.i.tus were not more different in their temper, than his genius was opposite to comedy, besides the true author was one Mr. E. S. who in his dedicatory epistle says,

"That being long pregnant with desire to bring forth something, and being afterwards brought to bed, had chose his friend Mr. Robert Hayman to be G.o.dfather, not doubting but his child would be well maintained, feeing he could not live above an hour with him; and therefore he entreated him when he was dead, that he might be buried deep enough in his good opinion, and that he might deserve this epitaph;

Here lies the child that was born in mirth, Against the strict rules of child-birth; And to be quit, I gave him to my friend, Who laught him to death, and that was his end."

The reason of my making this digression, is to shew, that such ridiculous unmeaning mirth, is not likely to have fallen from Mr. Goff, as he was a grave man, and nothing but what was manly droped from his pen. In the latter part of his life he forsook the stage for the pulpit, and instead of plays writ sermons, some of which appeared in print in the year 1627. To these works may be added his Latin funeral oration, at the divinity school, at the obsequies of Sir Henry Saville, printed in 4to, Oxon 1622; another in Christ's-church cathedral, at the funeral of Dr. Goodwin, canon of that church, printed in London 1627.

[Footnote 1: Langbaine's Lives of the Poets, 223.]

Sir FULK GREVILLE, Lord BROOKE,

Sprung from an honourable family in Warwickshire; he was educated both at Oxford and Cambridge, and introduced to court by an uncle in the service of Queen Elisabeth, who received him into her favour, which he had the happiness to preserve uninterupted to her death. At the coronation of James I, he was created Knight of the Bath, and soon after obtained a grant of the ruinous castle of Warwick. He was next appointed sub-treasurer, chancellor of the Exchequer, and privy counsellor, and then advanced to the degree of a baron, by the t.i.tle of lord Brooke of Beauchamps-court, and one of the lords of the bed-chamber to his Majesty. This n.o.ble author was the friend of Sir Philip Sidney, than which a greater compliment cannot be bestowed. As he was a poet and a man of wit he was held in the highest esteem in that courtly age; but he added to genius, a gallantry of spirit, and was as fine a soldier as a writer. Winstanley gives an instance of his prowess in arms.

"At the time (says he) when the French amba.s.sador came over to England to negotiate a marriage between the duke of Anjou, and Queen Elizabeth, for the better entertainment of the court, solemn justs were proclaimed, where the Earl of Arundel, Frederick lord Windsor, Sir Philip Sidney, and he, were chief challengers against all comers; in which challenge he behaved himself so gallantly, that he won the reputation of a most valiant knight. Thus you see that tho' case be the nurse of poetry, the Muses are also companions to Mars, as may be exemplified in the characters of the Earl of Surry, Sir Philip Sidney, and Sir Fulk Greville."

As our Author loved and admired the ladies, it is somewhat extraordinary, that he died a batchelor; for in all that courtly age, he could not find one on whom to confer the valuable prize of his heart. As he was himself a learned man, and possessed a variety of knowledge, so he patronized many necessitous candidates for fame, but particularly Camden, whom he caused by his interest to be made King at Arms. He was likewise very liberal to Mr. Speed the celebrated chronologer: finding him a man of extensive knowledge, and his occupation and circ.u.mstances mean, so that his genius was depressed by poverty, he enabled him to prosecute his studies, and pursue the bent of his genius without being obliged to drudge at a manual employment for his bread. Speed in his description of Warwickshire writes thus of lord Brook, "Whose merit (says he) towards me I do acknowledge, in setting my hand free from the daily employments of a manual trade, and giving it full liberty thus to express the inclination of mind, himself being the procurer of my present estate." He pa.s.sed thro' life in a calm of prosperity and honour, beloved by his equals, reverenced by his inferiors, and a favourite at court; but when he was about seventy years of age, this life of undisturbed tranquility, was sacrificed to the resentment of a villain, and a catastrophe of the most tragical kind closed the days of this worthy man.

One Haywood, who had been many years in his service, and had behaved with fidelity and honour, expostulated with him freely (while they were alone) for his not having received a due reward for his services. His lordship enraged at his presumption, and giving way to his pa.s.sion, reprimanded him very severely for his insolence; for which the villain being now wrought up to the highest degree of fury, took an opportunity to stab him with his dagger through the back into the vitals, of which wound he instantly died, September 30, 1628.

The murderer then struck with remorse, horror and despair, and all the natural attendants of his guilt, retired to his chamber, and having secured the door, fell upon the same weapon with which he had a.s.sa.s.sinated his master, and antic.i.p.ated on himself the justice reserved for the hand of an executioner. Lord Brooke was interred in Warwickshire, under a monument of black and white marble[1], whereon he is stiled, Servant to Queen Elizabeth, Counsellor to King James, and friend to Sir Philip Sidney.

His works are chiefly these, viz.

Alaham, a Tragedy; printed in folio 1633. This play (says Langbaine) seems an imitation of the ancients; the Prologue is spoken by a ghost. This spectre gives an account of each character, which is perhaps done after the manner of Euripides, who introduced one of the chief actors as the Prologue, whose business it was to explain all those circ.u.mstances which preceded the opening the stage. He has not in one scene throughout introduced above two speakers, in compliance with Horace's rule in his Art of Poetry;

nec quarta loqui persona laboret.

Mr. Langbaine professes himself ignorant from whence the plot is taken, neither can he find the name of any such Prince as Alaham, that reigned in Ormus, where the scene lyes, an island situated at the entrance of the Persian Gulph, which is mentioned by Mr. Herbert[2] in his account of Ormus.

Mustapha, a Tragedy, printed in folio 1633. This play likewise seems to be built on the model of the ancients, and the plot is the same with that of lord Orrery's tragedy of the same t.i.tle, and taken from Paulus Jovius, Thua.n.u.s, &c. Both these plays are printed together in folio, London, 1633, with several other poems, as a Treatise on Human Learning; An Inquisition upon Fame and Honour; A Treatise of Wars. All these are written in a stanza of six lines, four interwoven, and a couplet in base, which the Italians call Sestine Coelica, containing one hundred and nine sonnets of different measures. There are in this volume two letters; the one to an honourable Lady, containing directions how to behave in a married state; the other addressed to his cousin Grevil Varney, then in France, containing Directions for Travelling. His lordship has other pieces ascribed to him besides those published under his name, The Life of Sir Philip Sidney, printed at the beginning of the Arcadia. His Remains, or Poems of Monarchy and Religion, printed in 8vo. London 1670. Philips and Winstanley ascribe a play to him, called Marcus Tullius Cicero, but this is without foundation, for that play was not written, at least not printed, 'till long after his lordship's death. Having now given some account of his works, I shall sum up his character in the words of Mrs. Cooper, in her Muses Library, as it is not easy to do it to better advantage.

"I don't know (says she) whether a woman may be acquitted for endeavouring to sum up a character so various and important as his lordship's; but if the attempt can be excused, I don't desire to have it pa.s.s for a decisive sentence. Perhaps few men that dealt in poetry had more learning, or real wisdom than this n.o.bleman, and yet his stile is sometimes so dark and mysterious, that one would imagine he chose rather to conceal, than ill.u.s.trate his meaning. At other times his wit breaks out again with an uncommon brightness, and shines, I'd almost said, without an equal. It is the same thing with his poetry, sometimes so harsh and uncouth as if he had no ear for music, at others, so smooth and harmonious as if he was master of all its powers."

The piece from which I shall quote some lines, is ent.i.tled,

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The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume I Part 13 summary

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