The singular beauty of this gentleman's translation of Tasso, and its influence on English versification, demand a greater share of notice than is due to any poetical version preceding that of Pope. He was the son of Sir Thomas Fairefax, of Denton in Yorkshire, and early cultivating the enjoyment of rural and domestic life, retired with the object of his affections to Newhall, in the parish of Fuyistone, in Knaresborough forest, where he usefully occupied his time in the education of his children, and the indulgence of literary pursuits. His Godfrey of Bulloigne, the work which has immortalized his name, was written whilst he was very young, was published in 1600, and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.
This masterly version, which for the last half century has been most undeservedly neglected, has not hitherto been superseded by any posterior attempt. Though rendered line by line, and in the octave stanza of the Italians, it possesses an uncommon share of elegance, vigour, and spirit, and very frequently exhibits the facility and raciness of original composition. That it contributed essentially towards the improvement of our versification, may be proved from the testimony of Dryden and Waller, the former declaring him superior in harmony even to Spenser, and the latter confessing that he owed the melody of his numbers to a studious imitation of his metrical skill.
It is greatly to be regretted that the original poetry of Fairefax, with the exception of one piece, has been suffered to perish. It consisted of a poetical history of the Black Prince, and twelve Eclogues, of which the fourth is preserved by Mrs. Cooper in her Muses' Library. This lady informs us that the eclogues were all written after the accession of King James to the throne of England; that they were occupied by "important subjects relating to the manners, characters, and incidents of the times he lived in;" that they were pointed with many fine strokes of satire; dignified with wholesome lessons of morality, and policy, to those of the highest rank; and some modest hints even to Majesty itself; and that the learning they contained was "so various and extensive, that, according to the evidence of his son (who has written large Annotations on each), no man's reading, beside his own, was sufficient to explain his references effectually."
Fairefax died about the year 1632; and, beside his poetical works, was the author of several controversial pieces, and of a learned essay on Demonology.